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 Sharon Bishop's response to Stephen Jablon
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Posted - 2006 February 01 :  17:38:33  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Mr. Stephen Jablon October 28, 2005
4573 Indian Rock Terrace N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20007

Dear Mr. Jablon:

I write in response to your letter dated October 17, 2005.

Several things struck me about the tone and content of your letter. First, you expressed concerns about the College's treatment of a number of individuals (Jane Murray, Sara Barker, students involved in the cocaine investigation, Mark St. John, the editor of the student newspaper). These individuals either have not raised concerns on their own behalf, or their situations have been satisfactorily resolved. I recognize that you are attempting to point out "systemic" problems, but the fact that these individuals are not pursuing these matters themselves suggests to me that you may not have all of the relevant information.

A second and related observation is that your descriptions of matters are incomplete and significantly different from accounts given by others. This is not surprising because, as a student, you are not legally authorized to have access to other students' education records, including disciplinary history, or to employees' personnel files. Moreover, you are not privy to the College's investigative files, witness interviews, and other evidence. You would not know, for example, whether students lied in an investigation, and what impact such a proven or admitted lack of "honesty and plain dealing" may have had on their sanctions. Despite your apparent acknowledgment at the end of your letter that you do not have all of the relevant information, you made very serious allegations against several members of the community. It seems that a more tempered, respectful approach was warranted (and would have been more persuasive than personal attacks).

Third, while you complain of a lack of responsiveness on the part of College officials, you acknowledge receipt of several letters (I understand that you also received a letter from Ms. Seeger, although you did not mention it) and a number of conversations and meetings that you had with College officials. This level of access on the part of a student, especially regarding matters that do not involve him directly, is quite unusual for colleges. In my view, this shows an admirable openness on the part of the leadership of St. John's College to hear from students. I understand that you are dissatisfied with the results of those interactions, but you certainly have had ample opportunity to make your points.

St. John's is a private college and the College funds the student newspaper. The College has the right to control the content of the paper, but exercises this right very rarely and only for compelling reasons (e.g., privacy laws, ongoing investigations, pending criminal proceedings). Given that many of the published articles are critical of the administration, the College is not doing a very good job of "shield[ing] itself from public criticism," if that were its intent.

Finally, what struck me most about your letter was the lack of explanation as to why security guards in Annapolis and assistant deans, deans, and Presidents on both campuses would actively seek to harm students and employees, arbitrarily and unjustly, in the ways you described. In short, the motives you attributed to these officials simply do not seem plausible.

With regard to your recommendations, I do not believe there is any "unwritten policy of summer suspensions and expulsions." The College has a right to establish review procedures and to determine sanctions for violations of the rules of the community. Complaints against administrators are rare (even unprecedented) and students have the opportunity to address their concerns to the Board, as you have done. There is no "pattern" of improper conduct by Annapolis security officers; Ms. Seeger has pointed out in her letter to you that their task is complex, as it is on all college campuses.

I appreciate that your intentions are honorable, and that you wish only to correct injustices as you perceive them.. I encourage you, however, to consider the possibility that you do not have accurate or complete information and you are therefore imputing dishonorable motives to others that do not exist. I can assure you that the College has only the best interests of the students at heart. That does not mean that everything works perfectly all the time. Indeed, nothing meets that criterion. Your letter has helped to raise our awareness that students can sometimes misperceive circumstances and the factors affecting them. We will examine our practices and policies and make revisions where it is appropriate. We will continue to do our best to educate students in the St. Johnís tradition.

There will be no further communication with you on this matter. I encourage you to move on with your life outside of St. Johnís College.


Sincerely,


Sharon Bishop
Chair, Board of Visitors and Governors
St. John's College


cc: Christopher B. Nelson
Michael Peters
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