Faculty See Decline in Cluster Allegiance, Students Content with Current System

Arun Saigal ’09, President of Pine Knoll, doesn’t want to envision a 1,200-student cluster munch. “With clusters,” he said, “it’s a homey situation.” Elisa Joel, Abbot Cluster Dean, said, “The cluster system certainly in some ways allows the faculty to come to know segments of the community in more significant ways than if the system were centralized.” Clyfe Beckwith, Flagstaff Cluster Dean, agreed, “A cluster dean can get to know 220 students, but not 1,000 students.” The division of the student body into clusters also provides an administrative liaison for students in the form of cluster deans. Aya Murata, Dean of Pine Knoll, said that she knows every student’s name in her cluster. “It’s a good feeling for students that their cluster dean knows who they are … I imagine if there were one dean for the entire school, it would be a lot of work. I feel that my little village, community, they’re like extended family.” Patrick Maher ’09, President of West Quad North, said, “[The cluster system] makes the school feel a little smaller.” Lixia Ma, a house counselor in Johnson Hall, said, “Clusters create community and competition in a way that gives students something more that they are a part of, including day students.” The interactions between clusters can be characterized as “healthy, fun competition,” said Paul Murphy, Dean of Students. Ruth Quattlebaum, School Archivist, said that the clusters were established to provide students with a more specific sense of identity in the larger school community. “There are multiple layers of community [at Andover]: hall, dorm, cluster,” said Murata. “Different layers help give people a sense of community. That’s important in a school as large as ours.” Students do feel allegiance to their respective clusters. Carolyn Han ’09 said, “If we were just a school without clusters, it would be like a blob with individuals running around.” Andover’s peer schools do not have an equivalent of the cluster system on campus. The dorm life at Exeter is critical to the student community, and large dorms serve the same social function as clusters at Andover. Alena Davis, Information Coordinator for Exeter’s Dean of Students Office, said, “As far as groups doing things together, that’s mostly broken down by dorms and then day students, and then there are clubs.” At Milton Academy, small advising groups of six or seven students take the place of clusters. Milton also values strong student participation in the disciplinary action taken by the school. Each dorm has elected Boarding Monitors who sit in on a discipline committee if an issue arises in that dorm. Two Head Monitors, elected as part of the student government, also attend all disciplinary hearings. The disciplinary procedures at Andover are more personal through the cluster system. Clusters were established to “provide a more humane response to discipline,” said Quattlebaum. Beckwith said, “The alternative [to the cluster system] would be one central DC system. That’s a lot of DC’s for one group and so very impersonal. You want some sense of familiarity, or else it becomes like a court of law.” Joel said, “The student being DC’ed will have a sense of the people sitting in the room, and the committee will have better knowledge of the person.” “When the DC’s are personal, students can learn from their mistakes. All of a sudden, the discipline system becomes educational,” said Murphy. Discipline was not the key reason for the creation of the cluster system around 1973, when Phillips and Abbot Academies merged. At one point, clusters by grade were established, but that system failed, and the school moved toward grade-integrated housing as an alternative. According to Quattlebaum, the Dean of Students office was established to streamline collaboration between clusters. Mark Efinger, Instructor in Theatre and Dance, said, “When I was a student, cluster-pride was non-existent. Cluster spirit happened over the last 15 years.”