A Chance to Patch Up the Rift

Since 2000 the invisible decision-making hand in the residential lives of PA students has been that of Marlys Edwards, Dean of Students and Residential Life, but by the end of this year, a new hand will be at work guiding students through their boarding-school careers. Though it will be strange not to see Ms. Edwards in that capacity, and a new face and name will take some getting used to, it is important to look forward to the golden opportunity presented by this situation: repairing the rift between the students and the administration. Yes, the rift, an oft-mentioned phenomenon. It is a common topic of discussion in the dining halls and in the dorms, and it has been an editorial topic in this newspaper. The selection process of a new dean and the level of student involvement in that process could be a decisive factor in repairing this rift and could set the tempo of student-administration relations for years to come. This is an opportunity to bind up the Academy’s wounds. An article in last week’s Phillipian discussed the decision making process and demonstrated the mixed reactions among students as to the value and viability of student involvement. Will Eastman ’08 was quoted as saying “No matter who you are or how nice you are, the students are going to view you unfavorably.” Will is right. Somebody has to be the bad guy, in this case the highest ranking disciplinarian in the school; however, student input can ease the sting of the punitive lash. A major problem with relations between students and administrators is the perception that the latter is aloof. Though forums are held in which students and administrators exchange dialogue on campus issues and Ms. Edwards and others are available to meet personally with students with an appointment, the fact of the matter is PA administrators, much like PA students, are very busy people. They simply do not have the time to meet and greet students as much as they may like. As a result, students usually do not develop as close relationships with those in the Dean of Students and Head of School’s Office as they do with their teachers and house counselors. Fortunately, the candidates for Dean of Students themselves could prove a remedy for this alienation felt by many students and may dispel misconceptions. Chad Green and Paul Murphy are those candidates and their popularity may influence the development of a stronger relationship between policy makers and students. Both men have served as cluster deans, showing they have experience dealing with students in a disciplinary capacity, but more importantly, students know them from other, more personal roles. Students are acquainted with Mr. Green from his role as community service coordinator and scores of students from different grades learn algebra and trig in Mr. Murphy’s classroom. Though not personally acquainted with every student, Mr. Green and Mr. Murphy are at least familiar faces to a good portion of the community. Eastman is correct in his affirmation that the Dean of Students is never going to be a popular job in the eyes of students, but if students feel they know the dean from before the beginning of his or her tenure and have experienced different sides of their personality and character, as with Mr. Green and Mr. Murphy, the policies enacted and actions taken by that dean will likely be better received by the student body. This will be doubly true if the students are given a forum to air their opinions about the candidates and share their thoughts on and experience with those men. The discipline dealt by a dean can be tough medicine, but allowing us to choose a doctor we know will help the medicine to go down more easily. Being a dean is not all about enforcing policy. It is about being a parental figure in this home away from home. Though the parent bears the rod and a good one will at times be forced to use it, there should still be a degree of affection between the disciplinarian and his or her charges. So give us a survey. Give us a Philo forum. Whatever you do, give us a voice, listen earnestly, and in doing so make this appointment meaningful. I say without reservation that this may be the most important decision made at PA this year. Let us make it together.