School Congress Tackles Honesty

Academic dishonesty is “only the tip of the iceberg” for dishonesty at Phillips Academy, said Mark Efinger ’74, Instructor in Theatre and Dance. Efinger participated in Monday’s School Congress, an opportunity for student leaders to join with faculty members in small groups to discuss honesty at Andover. Topics included academic honesty, the possibility of an honor code, honesty in the discipline system, the promotion of honesty at the administrative and student level, and the relationship between honesty, trust and integrity. Several groups discussed academic honesty, while other groups kicked off their discussions by quoting the Blue Book: “Honesty is the basic value on which this community rests.” Nancy Lang, Instructor in Math, said, “We discussed standards about notes, such as Cliffnotes and Sparknotes, and how different teachers might have different expectations about how valuable or useful these notes are.” Some faculty members, like Efinger, felt that academics were overemphasized in the discussion of honesty. “I got sick of constantly attacking academic honesty issues,” he said. “The only time we really discuss honesty is in terms of academic honesty or what you get busted for, which [adversely] emphasizes the ideal of not getting caught,” Efinger said. Many faculty and students, though, appreciated the attempt to explore academic honesty. Mary Doyle ’08, one of the students who led a discussion, said, “There is a gray area for what is honest and not honest. The difficulty is in reconciling the two ideas and how to deal with that gray area.” Lang said, “We began to discuss some of the gray areas involving honesty, and I’m curious to hear more from the student perspective on that topic.” Tiffany Li ’09 said that “little lies” are often told in academic settings, but it is hard to distinguish when those lies overstep boundaries. In one room, students and faculty contemplated the possibility that the increasingly competitive college application process might motivate more academic dishonesty. Jonathan Stableford, Chair of the Department of English, said, “In this age, students are often driven by practicality.” The discussions also covered issues of dishonesty outside of academics. Congress student leader Lydia Dallett ’08 said, “There was a lot of discussion about the small instances of honesty, for example car permission. I’m always a bit concerned about students getting in my car when they say they have car permission, but they might not.” Dallett continued, “In a school as big as PA, we sometimes miss out on building strong relationships between students and teachers. We might lose building those connections of trust and responsibility. Students being dishonest probably don’t feel like they’re disappointing their teachers in the way they disappoint their mom or dad.” Teachers and students also noted a lack of explicit emphasis on honesty at PA, despite the passage in the Blue Book. Many faculty members suggested an honor code, requiring students to sign a statement after each exam verifying their honesty. Efinger, who graduated from PA in 1974, said that when he attended Middlebury College, he was surprised by its honor code since he would never have “ratted out” anyone at Andover. Efinger added, “The existence of an honor code shows that the institution values honesty.” He continued, “Society honors the thief. However, the thief can only steal the community’s sense of honesty as long as the community tolerates it. Students need to be empowered to honor their community and approach fellow students. In the end, [taking action] should come from the students. Faculty should be there to help.” Overall, both faculty and students agreed that the School Congress was a success. Doyle said, “Faculty seemed eager to get involved. When the faculty comes over together from their faculty meeting, they disperse, and we get this completely random mix of student and faculty members with people who know each other and people who don’t. It’s a neat product.” Some faculty members would like to see more come out of these discussions. Lang said, “I’d still like to hear more from students about honesty as a core value. At the meeting, students might have felt uncomfortable being frank. What was said only scratched the surface.” Stableford said, “I wish we knew what the next step was to move forward. I really like the idea of student leaders changing the notion of honesty for all students, creating a sort of underground or cultural effect [without an administrative presence].” Student Council President Tantum Collins ’08 said, “School Congress was first put in place to allow students and faculty to keep in touch.” However, Collins said that School Congress has always been used and structured differently. In the past, School Congress was used as a question and answer session between students and faculty, with no particular agenda. Congress was also used by students to give presentations to the whole faculty. Last week’s School Congress was the second meeting structured as small group discussions between students and faculty. Collins said, “[Student Council] has always received a lot of support for these School Congresses. Its recent change into a small group discussion format makes the most of School Congress’ primary goal of keeping students and faculty in touch.”