Disciplinary System Is Founded on Student Honesty

Phillips Academy uses a cluster-based disciplinary system. Each cluster has a designated Disciplinary Committee to decide on punishments for student offenses. The Disciplinary Committee is composed of the student’s cluster dean, house counselor, cluster president, DC Representative and a faculty member. When a student commits an infraction, his or her cluster dean handles the questioning process and brings forth information to the Disciplinary Committee. The process by which cluster deans obtain information about student offenses and confront students is circumstantial. When administrators hear rumors or receive pertinent information regarding a student offense, the questioning process begins. Chad Green, Dean of West Quad North said, “In my experience, when instances of significant rule breaking occur, people talk, information is filtered and adults end up being a part of those conversations.” He continued, “Both faculty and students live in the same community. Sometimes, events warranting a disciplinary response are quite public. What students sometimes fail to anticipate or recognize is that the circle of information quickly extends beyond the sphere of the individuals directly involved in an incident.” Before deeming a DC necessary, the cluster dean brings information about the rule violation to the Deans’ Table. The cluster deans and the Dean of Students deliberate over whether the offense warrants a DC meeting. Paul Murphy, Dean of Students and Residential Life, said that DC meetings only occur after a cluster dean has received legitimate information regarding an offense. “Once rule violations are taken to the Deans’ Table,” Green said, “we discuss past responses to similar offenses. We look at the full context of who the student is, and consider if a prior history of discipline [if one exists] bears any influence on the current situation.” “For example, a student might have been warned that another similar event would likely result in a meeting with the cluster DC,” Green continued. Major offenses that often result in a DC meeting include the use of drugs and alcohol, academic dishonesty, harassment and hazing. First-time minor offenses such as illegal parietals and illegal car permission typically do not result in a DC. Once in a DC meeting, the student is required to read a written statement outlining the activities that led to his or her rule violation. Members of the DC ask the student specific questions regarding his or her infraction: Where did it take place? What were the circumstances? Did the student leave campus? Why would the student participate in these activities? Honesty is one of the most important factors in the disciplinary process, said Murphy. During the entire disciplinary process, students are not required to divulge the names of other individuals involved with the infraction. “No student will be asked to implicate others by name in rule breaking. However, students are not prohibited from offering this information. If caught lying in a DC, students are liable for dismissal,” Murphy said. He continued, “We want kids to eventually come clean and say what they did. Owning up to an offense is educationally, morally and ethically the best thing for a student to do.” Thor Shannon, DC Representative for West Quad North said, “The entire DC system is built on the concept of honesty and telling the truth. During a DC meeting, the student is expected to be completely honest about whatever they’re being DCed for.” After questioning the student, the Disciplinary Committee begins deliberating until all five members reach a consensus. Often, there is already a precedent established. The Disciplinary Committee attempts to base DC decisions on previous outcomes and guidelines established in the Blue Book for systematic consistency, said Murphy. John Grunbeck ’09, Abbot Cluster President, said, “We work through punishments outlined in the Blue Book and try to reach a general consensus.” “Everyone’s voice counts, including the students in the room. We bring the perspective of the student body into the whole disciplinary process,” Grunbeck continued. Murphy said, “The process allows adults to understand student perspective. Social norms change, and it’s really important to have a finger on the pulse of what students think. Adults are definitely swayed by student input.” In the event that an infraction involves students from multiple clusters, the cluster deans and Dean of Students work together to create a consistent outcome. In the event of a tie vote, the cluster dean has the ability to make the overall decision.