Twenty Investigations, Fifteen DCs Result from Room Searches

The administration investigated approximately 20 students in response to two room searches and the examination of a cell phone beginning Tuesday, November 2. Fifteen Disciplinary Committee hearings resulted from these investigations. The offenses, which led to the DC hearings, were use and possession of drugs, use and possession of alcohol, possible provision of drugs and traveling off-campus without permission, according to Paul Murphy, Dean of Students and Residential Life. Twelve of the 15 students who faced a DC received probation, one received a short-term suspension, one a long-term suspension and one was dismissed. Three students withdrew with discipline pending, and one student who administrators questioned did not face disciplinary consequences. Murphy said they decided to search the two rooms after administrators “became aware of rumors [concerning two students using marijuana] right around Parents Weekend.” “We don’t take lightly the responsibility to do room searches for no reason at all,” said Murphy. “We want to feel pretty good about the information, that we’re going to find something. We want to feel like we’re not invading students’ privacy without good cause.” The room searches took place in West Quad North and West Quad South simultaneously at 4 p.m. The search yielded evidence of both drug use and distribution, Murphy said, when the deans found a scale and rolls of small bags. According to Murphy, administrators asked for the phone of one student, who complied, as per standard room search procedure. “A normal next question is, ‘Who is [the student] working with?’ We definitely used the text messages,” Murphy added. “In the normal course of room searches, we take phones away from students. It’s a communication device and we don’t want kids to text each other to warn [each other],” Murphy said. Administrators used information obtained from the text messages on the phone to identify approximately 17 more students to investigate. Murphy said that while they did not need the consent of the student’s parents to check the student’s phone, “the parents were okay with it.” “[Andover is] a private institution. We have a practice of asking for phones. We take your phone away if you’re using it at All-School Meeting. The context in this case mattered. There was evidence of drug dealing. There’s an umbrella statement for major offenses: you must cooperate about your wrongdoing. If I think it’s appropriate to take your phone away, and you do not cooperate, you’re liable for discipline in that situation,” Murphy said. “To me, actively looking through a phone seems like a reasonable thing to do,” said Murphy. “If the person is dealing drugs…there’s a legal obligation to look at these issues for the betterment of the community and the kids. We were in a reasonable place to look at the texts and then ask questions of those kids. Those texts could have meant nothing, but for every one of the kids we talked with, it was real stuff. We found out information that was troubling,” he continued. The texts implicated the other students in various drug- and alcohol-related offenses, and the administration called the majority of the twenty students in for questioning Thursday night. The 15 DCs took place between Saturday and Wednesday night. Murphy said he sent an email to faculty on Tuesday night informing them that something was happening on campus, but “not saying very much.” “I take the criticism that the email was so general that it wasn’t helpful. I might argue that it was at least helpful to know that kids would be buzzing about something and that the faculty would at least not be in the dark. When you start to write down details, then you feel like you’re getting into privacy issues,” Murphy explained. Murphy also sent an email to faculty on Wednesday, November 3, asking them to check with cluster deans about who is under investigation before granting any students Sanctuary, because students under investigation are not eligible for the Sanctuary policy. The Blue Book states that, “The sanctuary policy provides students the means of accessing support in situations where alcohol and drugs are involved without disciplinary consequences.” On Monday, November 8, Murphy shared details on the student investigations and the outcomes of the DCs with the faculty during the weekly faculty meeting. Rebecca Sykes, Associate Head of School, addressed the students and faculty during this Wednesday’s ASM. She explained that, after two room searches, the administration used the text messages on a student’s cell phone to investigate other members of the Upper and Senior classes. “The bottom line is that everything that’s happened on the side of the deans, counselors and medical staff has all been in the interest of protecting students and making sure they’re safe,” Sykes said. “I know this has been hard on the community, and I’m looking forward with everyone to having us return to normalcy,” she continued. Scott Cuthell ’11 started a petition on Monday, November 8, calling for Murphy’s resignation from his position as Dean of Students and Residential Life, in response to the administration’s actions during the investigations. Cuthell is the Head of Circulation and a former Features Senior Associate at The Phillipian. According to Cuthell, after he accumulated a hundred and twenty student signatures, he met with Murphy on Tuesday, November 9, to discuss the motivations behind the petition. At the meeting, Cuthell clarified that the petition was not a personal attack against Murphy. Following the meeting, Cuthell discontinued the circulation of the petition.