Thursday, October 26, 2006

Philosophical Thursday: Discipline

One of our bright third year students, Sdu, sent me a thought-provoking e-mail today. I thought others would like to comment as well.

I want to know how you feel about
the fact that the people,in the college,
who are supposedly there to help students in times of need also sit in
the disciplinary committee?The most prominent of these being the
AD's,the Deans themselves, the VP for Student Services and,at least the last time i
checked.the chaplain.

I guess your double role does make it kinda difficult for you to be one
or the other.In other words you cannot be both the
counsellor and the disciplinarian.I don't know if you're getting me.Say
a guy here in the dorms is having a problem with
imbibing fermented drinks but they are finding it difficult to stop and
they are looking for help,but the one office they can find help is
occupied by the chairman of the DC.My question is two fold.In such a
case;who does the youngster turn to?and should you be approached with
such a problem;how do you handle it?Now i'm not talking about you
catching the individual in the act,but rather they come to you to
confess,that they have been drinking in your dormitory.Do you yield to
the beckoning of your conscience or do you give into the demands of
school policy?
I've written this response... although it is not very coherent and clear as yet.

I sympathize greatly. I've experienced this same conundrum a few times in my life. It gets worse when you are a pastor in a conference and you are facing issues in your personal life or in your faith life, and you know that if you go talk to your pastor (The conference president) about it, it could effect your career, your ordination, your next job placement etc. The church has tried to solve this issue by voting in a policy recently that allows pastors to see a psychologist. The psychologist may then send the bill to the Conference to pay without disclosing who the pastor is that saw her.

I think your point is definitely valid that the College should put in place structures where problems can be dealt with confidentially. I think the chaplain agrees with this because he specifically requested to be taken of the disciplinary committee. In 2005 the psychologist was also not on the disciplinary committee. This year she is there. I think it is worth petitioning the College through student services to change this.

In terms of the roles of the Deans and the Student Services Director, I feel slightly different though. But the role definition of the deans are very complex and sometimes even confusing to ourselves, and I reserve the right to change my mind as the discussion continues :-).

We are definitely seen as parents. Now that immediately makes things challenging because parents, by definition, have the dual functions of discipline and care. Many parents actually fight quite strongly for the right to administer discipline themselves. I remember when I got myself into trouble with the law when I was a high school kid, there was a very real possibility that I could have had to face courts and the harsh penalties of an uninvolved justice system - my parents intervened and spoke to the authorities and asked very nicely that they be allowed to administer discipline at home. In this case it worked and I got some good discipline - but at least I did not have a criminal record (In those days the police still gave lashes to juvenile offenders).

Also, I think it is a good principle in the process of discipline to have it administered by somebody who is involved and caring, rather than by somebody who is completely removed and clinical. The purpose of discipline is seldom to come up with vengeful acts of retribution. The purpose is to act as an influence in the life of a student that will guide him in the right way in life. Here it helps to have somebody who is involved and, in a sense, not objective. Cold objectivity could easily result in two situations: Punishment can be harsh and punitive (as opposed to restorative) or alternatively punishment can be irrelevant and not take into account the real issues that the student needs to face. In either way it can undermine the main purposes of discipline (character formation, re-building relationships etc.).

It happens once in a while that there is a clash between the interests of the student and the interest of an institution. Eg... when a student leader drinks in public and damages the public's opinon of the institution. It is interesting that I've experienced this almost every single time that the deans bring balance in a disciplinary committee - arguing for discipline to address the needs of the student before they address the needs of the institution.

I actually think we are a very useful resource on the disciplinary committee. (By the way, do you know that the College Management did not want us on the dc this year?... one or two cases were handled without us, but we found ourselves just becoming involved almost by default by virtue of our contact and interest with the students who were facing diciplinary action)

On a slightly more technical level - the role of the dormitory dean is also a management role that requires that things be in order and running smoothly - this requires discipline. Eg. stealing or violence or bullying, or insubordination, or drunken parties, or excessive noise levels ... all conflict with the management priorities in a dormitory and the manager needs to make use of discipline at various levels of intensity to be able to create and maintain an environment that is condusive to study and healthy development.

Anyway... I can probably go on.

Time does not allow for much more, but let me say one more thing:

One: I do not buy the argument that being college rules should necessarily (and without question) lead to discipline. Eg. I've dealt with at least two cases this year where students came and told me that they unlawfully took girls into their rooms. They did this because they were affraid that somebody was going to find out about it and that they would then be in trouble. When they told me (it was an admission of guilt) and committed to change their behaviour, I saw absolutly no need to take punitive action. Punishment is really only ever effective if it can bring about a change in behaviour.

I've had people asking for help with drugs and sexual issues (both in terms of girlfriend/boyfriend sexual relations and in terms of sexual orientation) - This is where the other side of being a parent comes in. Care, counseling, advice, guidance. In fact... in one case it happened that a cold outside observer made a charge against one student based on behaviour that seemed completely out of line to him, but because myself, and my assistant knew this student and the challenges that he was facing we were able to prevent disciplinary action from being taken against the student.

I am not sure that we always succeed in this. I certainly do not have everybody's trust. And, yes, I think I think I've made one or two bad judgement calls in the past.

......but thanks for the questions.... keep talking to me. You're making me think.

What is your opinion on the issue?

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