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The Origins of Student Conduct at NC State

By: Paul Tongsri

The first known “Code of Student Conduct” at NC State appeared in the Announcement of the College of Agriculture and Mechanicals Arts in 1889, prior to the opening of the college on October 3rd.  The announcement states “Every pupil on becoming a member of the college thereby pledges allegiance to its rules.”

In the Beginning: Room Captains, Demerits and Mrs. Holladay’s Missing Hens:

From the beginning, students have played a small but significant role in their own self-governance.  An early description of life in Holladay hall explains that each room of men had a “Room Captain” whose responsibility it was to maintain order within the room.  Room Captains submitted weekly reports to faculty regarding the activities within the room.  In addition to the rules adopted by faculty, room captains soon adopted additional regulations to help in maintaining order in the rooms.

During their third meeting, the faculty determined that a demerit system was the best option for maintaining discipline among the students.  A full listing of offenses is not available, but most students are recorded as receiving between two and ten demerits based on the severity of the behavior.  Actions that would earn students ten demerits included missing class, using profanity, or being disorderly during prayers.  Students earning 100 or more demerits were dismissed from the University.

While individual faculty members were authorized to assign demerits, more serious offenses were often decided by the faculty body as a whole.  On December 8, 1891, a student was assigned 25 demerits for eating lettuce that had been taken from the school’s garden.  The number of demerits was later reduced to 15 by faculty vote and a letter was sent to the student’s father letting him know that his son “was doing very badly in his studies and was liable to be dropped.”

On November 25, 1889, W.P. Henley became the first student ever dismissed from the University.   According to minutes from the faculty meeting, Mr. Henley left the college at night without explanation and was therefore, “removed from the rolls.”

In March of 1891, a case involving the theft of Mrs. Holladay’s hens presented the first known opportunity for students to participate in the disciplinary process.  Mrs. Holladay had reported to her husband, President Holladay, that two of her hens and a plate of cookies had been stolen recently and asked that he investigate the matter.  The faculty dutifully interviewed each student individually and after a week of questioning learned that some students had, in fact, taken chickens.  However, when questioned further, the students claimed that they had stolen the chickens from the University’s chicken coop and not from Mrs. Holladay.

Rather than decide the case themselves, a few faculty proposed that the matter be presented to the students and allow them to recommend an appropriate outcome.  After presentation of the materials, the remaining students discussed the case and issued a surprising result.  The students began by chastising the faculty for being less stringent in prior cases:  “We, the students of the A & M College, do not think that the actions of the faculty on the cases of the past have been as stern as they had told us it would be.  We think there has been a case before the faculty that was not punished as it should have been; therefore, we cannot inflict a punishment that would have been justifiable under the circumstances.”

But when it came to issuing an actual sanction, the student jurors showed incredible restraint –recognizing the seriousness of the behavior while acknowledging the conflict between their current role as jurors and their own misdeeds as students.  “We recommend that the faculty demerit them heavily enough to keep them under restrain.  As for the two that lied, we would only say that the faculty inflict the punishment for that crime.  Our character cannot be stained by this lying.  We all feel that our conduct has been such that we cannot decide to suspend or expel them.  The question would have been decided much quicker had the faculty said: ‘Let him who is without crime cast the first vote.’”

Beginning in 1891, a committee of faculty and President Holladay was formed to “deal with as many cases of discipline” as possible.  Despite the committee’s function, several serious cases still made their way to the faculty for resolution.

By 1893, the role of room captains had diminished at the University as weekly room reports began to fade.  With more dormitories on campus, the number of students living in each room diminished, making the need for room captains obsolete.

The information contained throughout this brief history is primarily credited to the research of others.  A search of University Archives, Student Government documents, and various student publications revealed a continuing interest throughout the years in the history of the student conduct system at NC State.  Among the most comprehensive resources used included:

  • Author Unknown (Date Unknown) – Rules Governing the Conduct of Students and The Development of Student Conduct
  • Mann, Jeff (1979) – History of the Honor System/Student Judicial Program at North Carolina State University at Raleigh.

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