alt textThe student-run Honor System is at the heart of the Virginia experience. Through the years it has been described as the “most priceless of heritages,” a “fundamental cornerstone” and the “most unassailable of the University’s core values.” The Honor System makes possible a community of trust among students in which members are assumed to be men and women of integrity who never lie, cheat or steal—or tolerate such acts among their peers.

The history of honor at the University—a principle that’s evolved from a pledge to a code to a system—is a complex story. Over the years, thousands of U.Va. students have responded to the challenge of ensuring a strong sense of honor. It has not always been an easy endeavor, with debates and disagreements frequently stirring the waters.

It is widely believed that the murder of law professor John A. G. Davis on the Lawn by a student during a November 1840 uprising prompted the creation of an honor pledge two years later—a pledge that proved to be the seed of the Honor System we know today. Historic documents, however, tell a different story. A close reading of the faculty minutes from those years, in addition to student letters and diaries, does not reveal any connection between the murder and the Honor Code’s inception (except that Davis’ replacement proposed the pledge).

On a now historic date—July 4, 1842—the faculty agreed to the creation of an honor pledge requiring students to affirm that they had neither given nor received aid on exams. The action addressed repeated reports that some students had been caught cheating. The new pledge would appeal to one’s honor, a principle already vital to many students well before 1842. The link between the murder of Davis and what would become the University Honor System appears to be a 20th-century narrative grafted onto past events.

It can be argued that the beginning of the Honor System at the University dates rather to March 1825, when the first student had his name entered in the matriculation book. By entering his name, the student pledged to support the University’s principles, ideals and regulations—rules that forbade lying to professors and cheating on tests.

More important than the origin of the Honor System, however, is its survival into the 21st century—the triumph of ideals over the tribulations of changing times. Perhaps most challenging today is the fact that many students, for various reasons, appear reluctant to report violations of the Honor Code. In a sense, recent surveys indicate it has become something of a dishonor among some students to uphold the Honor Code by informing on a classmate. To be sure, all who care deeply about the Honor System at the University understand that there are formidable hurdles before it. But if the past is any guide, students will always be willing to step forward and provide the leadership necessary not only to keep honor alive at U.Va. but also to leave it stronger for those who follow.

HONOR TIMELINE

1825-1895
1901-1944
1945-1959
1960s
1970s
1980s
1990s
2000s

1825-1895

The Honor Pledge is born; the first honor trial ends with expulsion of a medical student

A Pledge is Born
At a historic meeting in 1842 that laid the groundwork for the University’s Honor System, the faculty adopted a resolution stating: “Resolved, that in all future written examinations for distinction and other honors of the University each candidate shall attach to the written answers presented by him on such examination a certificate in the following words—I, A.B., do hereby certify that I have derived no assistance during the time of this examination from any sources whatever, whether oral, written or in print in giving the above answers.”

1825: The University of Virginia opened to students on Monday morning, March 7. By adding their names to the matriculation book, the young men pledged to abide by the rules of the University, which stipulated that no student would lie to a professor or cheat on any exams.

1836: The first recorded instance of a U.Va. student invoking a sense of honor occurred during the violent rebellion of the Student Military Company in November. The armed and defiant 63-member group refused to turn over its guns and obey faculty rules. The student soldiers rioted for three days until the local state militia took control of the Grounds. During the revolt, the students sent word to the faculty that “every member of the company pledges his honor to stand by his comrades, and that action against one shall affect every individual.”

1840: In the process of commemorating the anniversary of the student rebellion of 1836, a student, Joseph G. Semmes of Georgia, shot and killed law professor James A.G. Davis in front of his home, Pavilion 10, on Nov. 12. Davis was replaced on the faculty by Henry St. George Tucker.

1841: On March 2, the faculty resolved to amend the rules governing exams to state that “no student shall bring into the lecture room at the hour appointed for the intermediate and final examinations in any of the Schools, a portfolio, blank or printed books or make use of any other means of concealing notes in evasion of the laws which prescribe the mode of examination.” The faculty also agreed that each student should provide the professor with “all written papers which he may have used during the examination.”

1841: Members of the faculty shared more reports of students caught cheating on exams. At a June 1 meeting, they resolved: “It being obvious that every successful attempt to secure the honors of the University by frauds in the examinations not only goes to impair the character of the University and lower its standard of merit, and so to inflict upon it the most serious injury; but also is a flagrant wrong to those who seek for honor by fair and honorable means, by reducing the value of the distinction which they obtain—Resolved, that the Faculty will refuse to confer a degree or to allow distinction in every case in which they shall be satisfied that the student has at any examination for such degree or distinction attempted to commit a fraud upon the Committee in any way or to any extent whatever. Resolved, further, that the above rule shall be understood to apply equally to the case of the person who gives, and that of him who obtains aid in the examination room.”

1842: At meetings on May 31 and July 2, the faculty discussed still more reports of students caught cheating on exams. On July 4, in what appears to have been a response to the reports, Tucker proposed that students henceforth attach a certificate to all exams confirming that on their honor they did not receive any assistance. The proposal was adopted. Nothing in the historic record suggests that Tucker’s proposal had anything to do with the murder of Davis two years earlier. And all the existing rules against cheating remained on the books. The faculty resolution stated: “Resolved, that in all future written examinations for distinction and other honors of the University each candidate shall attach to the written answers presented by him on such examination a certificate in the following words—I, A.B., do hereby certify that I have derived no assistance during the time of this examination from any sources whatever, whether oral, written or in print in giving the above answers.”

1851: On June 18, the first recorded honor trial ended with the expulsion of medical student R.S.F. Peete. Charged with cheating by several fellow students, Peete was found guilty by an all-faculty committee and dismissed. The faculty concluded, “Inasmuch as the act of leaving the examination room to consult the textbooks was in direct violation of the published rules of the institution, and if sanctioned by the Faculty would leave a tendency to destroy the confidence of the community in the parity of the examinations and would expose young men to the temptation of evading the obvious meaning of the certificate which they are required to append to their answers, the Committee are of opinion that Mr. Peete has vitiated his examination papers and has forfeited all title to be a candidate for graduation.”

1865-75: In the decade or so following the Civil War, the Honor Pledge proved to be the seed of a broader Honor Code that informed student behavior outside the classroom.

1892: Editors at the new student newspaper, College Topics, lamented, “That insignia of a Southern college and the thing for which this institution is justly noted, college honor, is gradually declining, and breaches against the unwritten code are now winked at that a few years ago would have brought down the strong arm of the law.”

1895: As organized sports, especially American football, became a powerful force at the University, some students worried that athletic competition was bad for honor. One student wrote in College Topics on Jan. 19, “This same honor system is but a vague and shadowy kind of thing and is frequently difficult to apply to special cases. It seems to us to amount about to this: that every student shall act in an honorable manner on every occasion when a gentleman is expected to act in such a fashion, so far as his actions affect fellow students. But on inspection we find the system extended in some cases with indefinite limits, while in others it is restricted by rather close and doubtful lines. Whenever the student body is displeased with the faculty, a great outcry is set up ‘You are encroaching on our Honor System.’ When, on the other hand, the faculty wishes to get in a point on the students, all that is necessary is to smile quietly and ask, ‘Oh yes, how about the vaunted Honor System?’ and so it goes with much pointing of fingers and mutual recrimination. Can it be true, as some maintain, that our moral standards are sinking? If so, what is the cause? Are we to charge our increasing moral obliquity against athletics? Those who have thought over the matter are inclined to the opinion that such is the case; that the rise of athletic spirit has been accompanied by a proportionate falling off from an ethical standpoint. They claim that the introduction of ‘dirty ball,’ the habit of taking every possible advantage of an opponent, the resorting to tricks and stratagem, all these are undermining our Honor System by blunting the sense of honor which is so persistently instilled at this institution. … Drinking and gambling have diminished in a degree corresponding singularly with the growth of athletics, and although it may be true that our social standard has sunk somewhat during the process, have we not gained more than we have lost? We are in a transition period. May our University not suffer by the transit, but rather come out strengthened and refreshed. May the high standards of honor so long prevalent here never be overthrown. Long live the Honor System.”

1895: On April, 30, College Topics noted, “It thrills us with a feeling of pride to see our Honor System gradually working its way throughout the North … Already Princeton and Cornell have adopted it, and the University of Pennsylvania is about to follow their example.”

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1901-1944

A permanent Honor Committee is formed; fake IDs and false musters bring separate issues to a head

1901: “Is the Honor System of which we are so justly proud, limited to our examination rooms? Or should it be of such circumscribed application? We hope not, we believe not. Yet, there are some of us who think it no harm to answer ‘Present’ for their friends at roll-call, though the aforesaid friends be anywhere but in the room. Is that in strict accordance with the system of honor which obtains here? The Honor System requires that we be men of uncompromising integrity in our entire collegiate career, official, social or athletic. In every detail of our lives here we are treated as upright—the professors do not look up when the men answer to their names, as they have confidence in them. It is occasionally said that the present day is one of degeneracy. Be that as it may, but let us not be base enough to betray confidence.” (College Topics, March 2)

1903: Fourth-year student James Hay Jr. wrote “The Honor Men,” a poem for publication in the annual Corks and Curls. Hay wrote, “Remembering the purple shadows of the lawn, the majesty of the colonnades, and the dream of your youth, you may say in reverence and thankfulness: I have worn the honors of Honor, I graduated from Virginia.”

1904: On April 13, Dr. William M. Thornton, the first dean of engineering at the University, delivered a talk titled “The Genesis of the Honour System.” In it, Thornton identified Thomas Jefferson’s advice on encouraging strong moral character among young men as the actual origin of the Honor Code. “The Honour System has transformed the University of Virginia into what is in effect a gentleman’s club. Expulsion from it is the most fearful penalty which can befall a young Virginian. If he remains at home, it is to face the lifelong contempt of his social equals, to be debarred from every office of honour in the Commonwealth, to be shut out of every Club, to be excluded from all positions of trust and confidence.”

1906: In addressing the annual meeting of the Association of Preparatory Schools of Southern States, Thornton said, “The great malady of our modern times is the adoration of the winning side. In the business world to be rich at whatever cost to body and soul; in the political world to be powerful whatever the price in sincerity and faith; in the social world to lead through whatever sloughs of ignoble pleasure and brainless folly—these are the manias of the life of our day.”

1912: During the popular College Hour gathering on Dec. 4, student Churchill Humphrey read from a paper he had written proposing a new U.Va. student government in which he called for the creation of a permanent Honor Committee to consist of the student presidents of the University’s various schools. His proposal was subsequently adopted.

1913: On Nov. 20, the new Honor Committee resolved that it would begin trying any violations of the no-gambling pledge (most upper-classmen had recently signed a pledge that they would not gamble with first-year men). The committee also declared its jurisdiction over anyone writing bad checks in the community.

1915: The Honor Committee announced that it would also extend its authority to any students who violated the no-drinking pledge that was often made during school dances.

1916: “Perhaps no other time since the origin of the Honor System has it been so much discussed as at the present time. We receive several letters each month with inquiries from other institutions as to the workings of the system, and several times each month we read of its adoption or its rejection at other universities. Difficulties tend to become intensified as our university grows. It is not inconceivable that with an enormously increased student body, the standard of conduct at the University of Virginia where the spirit of honor is as much a part of the place as its classic buildings, might be lowered in time by reason of the influx of men whose former environments have not demanded the same standard of academic life.” (College Topics, April 5)

1916: The Senff Gateway was unveiled, marking the formal East entrance to the University grounds at the Corner. Mrs. Charles Senff donated the money for the new gateway in her husband’s memory as well as to commemorate the Honor Code. Henry Bacon, architect of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, used Harvard University’s gates as a model. A plaque at the Senff gateway reads: “Enter By This Gateway And Seek The Way Of Honor, The Light Of Truth, The Will to Work for Men.”

1917: The University’s Young Men’s Christian Association became the owner of a new Ford automobile. Students used the car to travel to high schools throughout Central Virginia to teach young men about the Honor System and “clean” sports.

1917: By the fall, many students—believing that the Honor System had become “unwieldy and cumbersome”—vowed to repair it. At an historic gathering on Nov. 19 at Cabell Hall, members of the student body voted 132 to 90 to make the following changes to the Honor System: first, to record all proceedings of the Honor Committee; second, that the registrar, faculty, and alumni be notified of Committee decisions; and third, that the names of those dismissed by the Honor Committee be made public to the student body. Known collectively as the Publicity Clause, the reform was derided by many alumni who preferred the previous system.

1920: Philip Alexander Bruce published the first two books in a five-volume series, History of the University of Virginia, 1819-1919. He discussed the origins of the Honor System in Volume 3. Bruce suggested no causal link between the murder of Davis in 1840 and the adoption of the Honor Pledge two years later. Moreover, the tragedy of November 1840 was not even mentioned in Bruce’s discussion of the origins of the Honor System. In fact, Bruce made a point to dispel what appears to be a commonly held belief at that time: that Tucker proposed the Honor Pledge simply because he saw something similar working at the College of William and Mary. Bruce wrote, “It has been often asserted that [an honor pledge] was suggested to [Tucker] by the modified system of a like character which had prevailed at the College of William and Mary.” Bruce points out that the William and Mary pledge was more like the U.Va. matriculation pledge to uphold all school rules than it was a written statement that one did not cheat on a given exam. Bruce concludes that the Honor Pledge of 1842 was in all likelihood merely a “supplementary lever” instituted by the faculty to curb cheating in the classroom. “It is quite possible,” he wrote, “that the Honor System was adopted as the policy of the University because, as the size of the classes grew, the difficulty of preventing the use of unfair means by unscrupulous students in examinations also increased. The adoption of the Honor System was designed at the start, not to remove at one strike all the perplexities of the situation—this must at first have been thought impossible—but simply to create an additional means of minimizing those perplexities.”

1923: For the first time, the Honor Code applied to students in U.Va.’s Summer School session. In October, the Honor Committee established its first Bad Check Committee.

1926: In a much-discussed, controversial case, the Honor Committee expelled two students in January—one because he answered “present” for a friend during a class roll call, and the second (the absent friend who was late returning from Christmas break) for asking him to do it. “The Virginia standard, that the truth is honorable and falsehood dishonorable, must be carried on,” the Honor Committee wrote in an open letter to the University community.

1927: In November, College Topics reported that “an unfortunate step was taken by the Honor Committee this year in neglecting the custom of having every student of the University sign the honor code pledge at registration.”

1929: Mathematics professor William “Reddy” Echols, in an address to first-year men, said in part, “It is up to you to hold fast to that which is good and which has come down to you as such through your students ancestors, and to pass on to your successors when your time comes the principle of the Honor Code.”

1929: In an effort to counter complaints from state leaders of public drunkenness among U.Va. students, College Topics funded a film documentary, “The Highest Degree,” which showed the workings of the Honor System.

1931: Student uproar ensued when the Honor Committee issued resolutions threatening to investigate anyone leaving a classroom during an exam (even to go to the restroom).

1932: The Honor Committee expelled a student for smoking. Evidently, the young man had signed a pledge as a member of the track team stating that he would not drink, smoke or have sexual intercourse during the track season—a pledge common among student athletes at the time. But the student quit the team and believed it was allowed to start smoking again since he was no longer an athlete. Against the protests of numerous students, faculty members and deans, the Honor Committee found the student guilty of violating the University’s Honor Code and expelled him. “A breach of any pledge, even though it relates to the most trivial subject, is an offense against the Honor System,” the Committee ruled.

1932: Student leaders expressed concern that professors, especially those “from foreign countries,” are not covered by the Honor System and do not fully understand the concept of honor.

1934: The Honor Committee reportedly held its last open trial this year. It would not open a trial to the public again until 1975.

1934: With prohibition lifted and state-run Alcoholic Beverage Control stores opening in Charlottesville, the Honor Committee agreed in September not to investigate any case in which a student under 21 lied about his age to buy alcohol. That ruling was reversed in 1955 and reversed yet again in 1969. At present, the Honor Committee does not take an official stance on whether the use of fake IDs by underage students to obtain alcohol constitutes an Honor offense. Such instances are handled on a case-by-case basis. While the Committee may investigate the use of fake IDs, it is highly unlikely that any charges would be brought.

1936: In an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a U.Va. student wrote, “There is nothing romantic or ethereal about the Honor Code, it is cold and hard and merciless and often cruel … and it is not to be trifled with. … In the last 16 years, 160 students have been dismissed under the Honor System.”

1938: Former College Topics editor Robert Musselman observed, “The University of Virginia is known far and wide as a place of honor. … On the other hand, the student body of the University has about the worst credit rating of any institution in the East. Its reputation for business honesty approaches the vanishing point. There is hardly a merchant in Charlottesville who has not felt the burden of students’ uncollectible accounts and worthless checks. … Back some years, when the University had a smaller, more homogeneous student body, common honesty was expected of every student, and breaches of this code were punished just as swiftly and efficiently as violations of the Honor Pledge. This is no longer true. The growth of the student body and changes in its general composition have paved the way for a contraction of the scope of the Honor System.” (College Topics, Jan. 7)

1938: Student leaders ruled that no women would be allowed to serve on the Honor Committee, despite repeated appeals by female students in the School of Education. (This was obviously overturned at some point during the 1970s after women were admitted to the College of Arts and Sciences).

1939: Students continued to express concern that the influence of the Honor System at the University was waning, and that increasing enrollment was to blame. In January, a College Topics editorial stated, “Why are there more thefts now than formerly—can the stealing be solely the work of outsiders? Why does the system fail to drive home its magic potion to all of us as it did before? To the university officials, we can only beg that they do their utmost to stop the enrollment from reaching a size which would prohibit any effective Honor System.”

1941: In January, the Student Senate passed a resolution advising the Honor Committee to end its jurisdiction over athletic training rules and instead leave such authority with coaches. “We feel that the pledge system as it is now in operation places an unnecessary strain on our cherished code of honor and is developing to an unfortunate point. We feel that the strain and unfairness is most unnecessary and has no place at the University. We honestly believe that when the Honor System was created it was not meant to be the controller of individual opinions and actions as to what the proper and adequate training rules for a successful sports campaign were and are.”

1941: College Topics continued to publish students’ opinions about the perceived evolution of honor at the University. One student wrote, “No more can a student think of leaving his coat or books on the Mad Hall wall when his assurance of finding them there in a few hours is gone. Perhaps the day is at hand when at the local theaters we shall be compelled to hold our coats on our knees. The University is no longer a drawing card for the fine ‘old families of the South.’… It is exceptionally painful for me to have to admit, as I am a native Northerner myself, that the great majority of the cardinal offenders are from the North—Northern ‘scum’ which for some strange reason this institution seems to be attracting in ever increasing droves. … From an authoritative unofficial source, I have been informed that already this year, around 20 boys have been asked to leave the University for violations of the Honor Code.” (College Topics, Feb. 28)

1942: Students gathered at the Rotunda for a formal dance in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the U.Va. Honor Code.

1943: According to College Topics, nearly four-fifths of the entering first-year class, (many of them Naval cadets assigned to train and study at the University before being stationed elsewhere in support of the war effort) failed to pledges to uphold the Honor Code. Enforcing the code during the war years proved particularly challenging because many of those students perhaps felt more loyal to their fellow servicemen than they did to the University as students. And as one observer at the time wrote, it was “not necessary to sign one’s name to one’s honor in order to have honor, that the fact of being an officer [in the U.S. Armed Forces] was alone a guarantee of integrity.”

1943: On Nov. 30, Honor Committee met with students who were Naval students. College Topics reported, “Everyone, including the Honor Committee, is confused about the application of the Honor System to Navy regulations and their enforcement. If the Honor System at the University is to continue as a vital part of our life, this confusion must be eliminated. … The main problem facing the students is whether or not the offense of false muster [when someone falsely indicates a member of the mustered unit is present] should come under the jurisdiction of the Honor Committee. … The ‘little white lie’ of society must be clearly distinguished from the deliberate falsehood, or confusion will continue. The shortage of third- and fourth-year men who have always been the guardians of the Honor System makes it necessary to have a definite policy openly decided upon immediately.” One letter to the editor of the student newspaper said: “I refuse to accept the Virginia Honor System as a part of my military duties or to conform to it while carrying out duties pertaining to Naval activities until ordered to do so by my Commanding Officer.” (Dec. 9)

1943: On Dec. 16, College Topics published the results of a poll of 761 students—hailed as “one of the greatest verbal demonstrations of public opinion ever recorded at the University.” By a ratio of 14 to 1, “the students voted unofficially to keep mustering off of the Honor Code. … The majority of the votes favoring the Honor Code’s covering of false musters came from the Medical School.”

1944: On the historic day of June 6, a headline in College Topics said, “Committee Bans False Musters.” Despite the results of the student opinion poll the year before, the Honor Committee informed the University community that it considered lying to be a violation of the Honor System, and thus made clear its jurisdiction over false musters by Naval cadets.

1944: In December, student leaders lamented plans by the state to build dormitories for first- and second-year students. Much like their predecessors in the 1920s, these students believed strongly that removing younger students from the daily influence of older students would threaten the Honor System. One student wrote, “From its inception more than a hundred years ago, the Honor System has depended for its continuous existence upon orientation programs and the imparting of its spirit to new men by their associations with older students. Take away the opportunities for these association, and the greater part of a younger student’s training in the principles of the Honor System is eliminated and the structure of the System badly weakened. … Let the new dormitories be built, if they are necessary for the University’s expansion; but NEVER let them be the cause for the destruction of our Honor System.”

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1945-1959

Students grapple with concerns over bad checks; the Honor System is praised as the greatest of all U.Va. traditions

1945: Students returning after the war elected the first student government in three years. The Honor Committee had assumed the duties of student government during the war.

1946: “We have seen too many little black boxes on the front of Topics lately announcing the dismissal of men from the University for honor offenses. … There are some who think that the tradition of honor and the associated tradition of gentlemanliness are stuffy and outmoded. But a tradition exists because it has worthwhile and lasting attributes.” (College Topics, Nov. 16)

1948: The student newspaper was renamed The Cavalier Daily as a result of a student poll in April.

1948: “During a conversation the other day the question of just how many real gentlemen there are at the University was brought. Well, for our money, brother, there are plenty. For one thing, where else can you find a student Honor System held in such high esteem by local merchants? Go elsewhere and see if you’re as completely trusted as you are here. A friend of mine went down to see the Carolina-Cavalier football game and stayed for the weekend in Chapel Hill. He walked into a drug store for lunch and attempted to order a milkshake. The soda jerk just looked at him with a rather surprised expression on his face and finally said: ‘Look buddy. You go over there first and pay the cashier twenty cents. Show me the receipt she gives you and then I’ll make you your shake.’ Quite a change from Charlottesville, isn’t it?” (The Cavalier Daily, January)

1948: In an open letter to the University community in September, David W. Carr, chairman of the Honor Committee, urged students to uphold the tradition of honor. “As the school year 1948-49 begins, it is the earnest desire of the Honor Committee that each student here at the University accepts his responsibility in upholding the Honor Code, and transmits that inner feeling which comes from being an honorable member of a system, long upheld and cherished. The signing of the honor cards is most important as it is a membership card to the Honor System. However, the functioning of the system only begins with the cards, and every member must realize that the system works for the benefit of the students and the University. Hence, the system is and must be run by the students.” In December, after concerns that not enough students were upholding the Honor System, Carr requested that several of the more important rules of the Honor Code be printed in The Cavalier Daily to better familiarize students with the system.

1949: The Raven Society hosted a panel discussion exploring “ways and means of achieving a more effective indoctrination of first-year men” into the Honor System. Panel participants included alumni and faculty members Robert K. Gooch and Hardy C. Dillard and students Dave Carr and Emmett Fontaine—all former or present presidents of the College and therefore chairmen of the Honor Committee. A Cavalier Daily editorial about the discussion said, “The chief source of strength for the Honor System lies in the understanding students have of it. They must possess not only a proper conception of Honor, but an understanding of the mechanics of the System as well. Sometimes it seems to us that not enough emphasis is placed on acquainting new students with the latter necessity. … Understanding proceeds from the perusal of printed material on the subject, but more understanding can proceed from more give-and-take discussions. The veil of secrecy has been known to prove a shroud for many revered customs.”

1950: In January, the Honor Committee issued a public statement in an attempt to clarify a recent case that had sparked debate among students. After “repeatedly failing to pay his checks at the Commons,” a student was brought up on Honor charges. Sharing the opinion that the young man was “mentally unsound,” Committee members agreed to let the student withdraw from the school rather than be dismissed for violating the Honor Code.

1950: In March, student Ross Fleming, chairman of the Bad Check Committee, expressed concerns over the escalating rates of bad checks being passed at the University Commons. The Cavalier Daily reported that “the amount involved has reached an average of from $150-200 a week. … Passers of rubber checks are reminded that a third offense automatically carries a summons to appear before the committee.”

1950: Also in March, Honor Committee Chairman Emmett Fontaine reminded fellow students that the following are all violations of the Honor System’s prohibition against lying: “The act of signing a roll or answering present for another student who is not actually present; the act of leaving the classroom before the end of the class period without securing permission in advance or without offering an explanation; the act of entering a classroom after the end of a class period and receiving credit for having been present.”

1950: In a letter to the editor of The Cavalier Daily, a student urged that the Honor Code continue rather as an Honor Spirit, “upholding the spirit and tradition of honor, otherwise it just becomes a list of rules and loses its strength.”

1950: Beginning this fall, the Honor Committee required “that the Honor Pledge be signed on a form furnished and processed by the IBM office.”

1950: The Cavalier Daily welcomed new men to grounds. “In the famous Honor System, instituted here over a hundred years ago as a monument to the belief that honesty and freedom of the human mind go hand and hand with true education, you will glimpse an intangible asset lingering among the tangible marks of progress around you. Without it the new buildings would have no meaning, and no strength.” (Sept. 16)

1950: In the fall, alumnus and law professor T. Munford Boyd addressed first-year students—a group which included men and women—in Cabell Hall regarding the Honor System. He said, “If I were asked to give a short definition of the Honor System, I think it would go something like this: That it is a high convention among men and women who have chosen to seek the truth, by which it is mutually agreed that no end, however important or however desirable, will justify the use of dishonest means in its attainment.” In his speech, Boyd proposed a historical link between the murder of Davis by a student in 1840 and the creation of an honor pledge in 1842.

1950: “The University Honor Committee, a body functioning with no formal charges since the turn of the century, will admit an additional member to its meetings beginning Feb. 3, it was announced recently. The president of the Department of Education will be the sixth regular man on the present five-person committee. A resolution signed by Robert O. Hyde, chairman of the Honor Committee, also stipulated that the vice president of the department of which the accused is a member shall constitute the seventh member of the committee. The declaration added that the vote of six of the seven-man tribunal will be required for the dishonorable dismissal of a student. Presently, a guilty verdict calls for five votes out of a six-member Council. On the new committee will be the current members who are the presidents of the College, Graduate School and departments of Law, Medicine, and Engineering. … The Department of Education received full recognition from the University at the end of November when a referendum was passed entitling it to a seat on the Student Council.” (The Cavalier Daily, Dec. 6)

1951: In his column in The Cavalier Daily, reporter and editor Staige Blackford wrote, “Of all trends or traditions, past, present or future, the greatest at the University is its Honor System. And Virginia’s code of honor is more than just a rigid set of rules. It is a spirit and way of life that permeates the entire institution; it is a living, dynamic force from whence this institution derives its strength, from whence comes the power to mould men of character, integrity, and honor. … Should the day ever come when honor becomes merely a word at the University, Virginia will have fallen as a citadel of corruption, distrust, and dishonor.”

1951: On Sept. 17, first-year men gathered in Cabell Hall for what had become an annual event: the Honor System Indoctrination Meeting. Howard Bonham, vice president of the Honor Committee, told the crowd, “The Honor System works here because each individual student respects it and makes it his personal responsibility to see that it does work and is observed.” An important procedural point of the Honor System was explained as follows: “No informer clause is found in the code. It is not the duty of an accuser to ask the Honor Committee to try a man he suspects of violating the code. The members of the accusing party must accuse the suspect to his face and demand an explanation for his actions. If the suspect’s explanation is not satisfactory, the accusers should demand he leave the University within 24 hours. If the accused insists on his innocence, he must contact the president of his department and ask for a trial in which to clear himself. But it is the violator who must request the Honor Committee to hold a trial, not the accusers.” The following day, the entire text of the Honor Code was printed in The Cavalier Daily.

1951: The Sept. 22, 1951 edition of The Saturday Evening Post included a lengthy article profiling the University by Pete Martin titled “There’s No Place Like Virginia, They Say.” “Because of [the Honor System],” Martin wrote, “it is possible to leave textbooks, coats or hats on the grounds and find them there hours, even days later. Because of it, instructors can leave a classroom where an examination is going on, sure that if any cribbing is done, it will be taken care of by the students themselves, without intervention by the faculty.”

1952: In a letter to the editor in The Cavalier Daily, a student criticized members of the Honor Committee for what he called “asinine statements” and “stupid dogmas.” The Honor Committee had recently issued a statement reminding students that it is a breach of the Honor Code to leave “a classroom before the end of the hour without securing permission in advance or without offering an explanation.” “What has he broken?” the letter-writer demanded to know. “Has he lied, stole or cheated? Hardly. … If anyone is to censure a student for leaving early, let it be the faculty, which has a justifiable claim to such a task, and not the omnipresent and omnipotent Honor Committee.” The writer goes on to condemn another Honor Committee rule, which says that a student who does not answer a professor’s question in class in a timely manner is also guilty of an honor violation for lying. He then concludes, “Why should six men take it upon themselves to decide for 3,000 men something very important to those men as an Honor System? Surely these apostles of the Student Body have heard of the referendum. The Honor Committee has evidently thrown caution to the winds by putting such petty things under the Honor System. It should be reminded that overloading an Honor System usually breaks the system down. A thing can be overdone.” (Feb. 19)

1952: Writing about U.Va. history, a student concluded that “the adoption of the Honor System in 1842, the proudest tradition of the University, is thought to be the turning point of student-faculty relations.” (The Cavalier Daily, Feb. 21)

1952: “The Honor System is the basis for all University life and its spirit is found in every aspect of a student’s life from his academic career, extracurricular activities and personal contacts to his conduct in society and in business. The University is a place where a man’s word is his bond, and if he breaks his word by lying, stealing or cheating, he is asked to leave the University—not by the administration but by his fellow students in whose care is vested what we at Virginia are proud to call the Honor System.” (The Cavalier Daily, Sept. 18)

1953: Letters to the editor of The Cavalier Daily complained that “honor” was not revered by all employees of the University. “We find it difficult to understand,” two first-year men wrote, “why our word of honor should be inviolate in some phases of our student life and not in others. Yet such is the case, and we find that not only the Athletic Department but the Temporary Cafeteria and others as well not only fail to respect this most priceless heritage of University students, but act almost as if they were ignorant of its existence.” Editors at the newspaper agreed. “The atmosphere of honor in all things that pervades the Grounds should be a blanket that covers all concerned and not a ragged patchwork quit that covers only students.” (March 3)

1953: The Honor Committee published its “instructions to new faculty on the application of the Honor System” on the editorial page of the student newspaper. The list of recommended procedures included this: “If in the course of grading papers, a professor should become suspicious of the work of any student, he should immediately call upon several of the student’s colleagues and have them review the paper in question.” Much of the instructions also explained rules regarding attendance to classes and underscored how any infraction in that regard would be seen as a form of lying by the Honor Committee. (Sept. 29).

1953: A letter to the editor of The Cavalier Daily expressed concerns that an increasing number of students have lost faith in the Honor System. The newspaper’s editor responded with concern. “The Honor System is the very flesh and blood of this University,” he wrote. “Honor has come to mean something almost sacred at Virginia. Honor and the Honor System—the simple fact that here one man trusts another—have grown inseparably into something great and good, something that is the essence of what we mean when we refer to the University. … There can be no compromise with Honor.” (Oct. 15)

1953: In an open letter to the University community in October, Honor Committee Chairman Stuart Valentine wrote, “It has come to my attention that many students feel and fear that our Honor System has gone down a great deal. Lately some unfortunate individuals have had things stolen from them. This naturally has aroused their doubts concerning the effectiveness of our Honor System. … This is your Honor System as well as mine. If you want to live in a society of honorable men, then you must be prepared to defend and strengthen this system at all times. If you know of violations of the Honor System and fail to turn them in, but allow them to go on, you are not only as guilty as the offenders, but also you are showing by your actions that you don’t believe in this system and would just as soon live in a society of dishonorable men. … We here at Virginia have inherited a precious gift in our Honor System. Like all things you may find faults and misunderstandings in it. Feel free to call upon the Honor Committee at any and all times if there is ever any doubt in your mind concerning an honor violation or the Honor Code. We gladly welcome any constructive criticism.”

1954: An editorial in The Cavalier Daily scolded incoming first-year men and transfer students, many of whom evidently missed a recent Honor Committee orientation meeting. “There is no place here for those who fail to recognize the code of gentlemen, and those men who have not received the information supplied by the Honor Committee should make a special effort to attend the meeting, which will be held in the near future.”

1954: Editors at The Cavalier Daily called on the Honor Committee to host a student forum that would explore ways to update the Honor System. “From time to time, situations arise that are new and different. … Thus it would seem that there would have to be a periodic reappraisal of the system by the students as well as the Honor Committee to make sure that it is functioning as they feel it should. We think that now is one of these times.” The editors also raised new concerns. “The Honor System in the gymnasium, how should and does it apply? Many people have expressed grave doubts about the functioning of the Honor System there; and since there have been numerous cases of lockers being rifled and since athletic equipment has been more or less permanently ‘borrowed’ by large numbers of people in some cases, one might ask if the situation is improving rapidly enough. Another point that is oftimes in dispute is the Honor System at the ABC store. How should and does it apply there? Still another, how does the Honor Code apply to professional fraternity and other organizational debts? Still another is tests and to what extent should they be taken out of the classroom?” (March)

1954: A few weeks later, The Cavalier Daily editors again expressed concern about the Honor System. “Under any circumstances we would be among the last to believe that the Honor System at the University is going to pot, and that the whole thing is a failure. However, it is worth some serious consideration to note the increase of cases the Honor Committee has had this year, and especially this semester.”

1954: On May 4, the Honor Committee announced changes to its procedures. These included the creation of a counselor system for each department whereby students would receive additional instruction and information regarding the Honor System; parents of an accused would not be permitted to attend honor trials; and every accused would also be assigned an adviser to help them navigate the process and ensure a fair trial.

1954: In December, after a “semester of bargaining” between University President Colgate Darden and members of the Student Council, the administration proposed a reorganization of student government that included the creation of a nine-member Judiciary Committee to oversee the reporting and imposing of penalties for student discipline. Like the Honor Committee, the new Judiciary Committee represented real vitality in student self-governance at Virginia. The proposal was ratified by students in a University-wide referendum the following February. (The new Judiciary Committee was charged with investigating student misconduct “except cases involving sex offenses, parking violations, cases under consideration by Student Health, and contractual obligations with the University.”)

1955: At an honor orientation meeting for incoming students in September, Honor Committee Chairman Howard Gill said he believed lying to buy alcohol at an ABC store was a breach of the Honor Code. This view was contrary to a committee policy that had been in place since Prohibition was lifted— a fact that prompted The Cavalier Daily to call for a clarification. In response, Gill wrote an open letter acknowledging for the first time that the committee as a whole shared this view. “The Honor Committee feels that in the purchase of alcoholic beverages, a case of honor should arise from the following situations: 1) Lying about your age upon being questioned. 2) Presenting as your own false identification confirming your age as legal when questioned.” The Cavalier Daily responded on Oct. 25 by underscoring a point that Mr. Gill had made in his letter—that a section of the Honor Code states that “it is essential that the Honor System shall concern itself solely with those offenses which are classified as dishonorable by the public opinion of the student generation involved.”

1955: A Cavalier Daily reporter posited that the origin of the Honor System could be found in a “poisonous moral attitude” at the University in its early years “which caused a newly inducted faculty member, Henry St. George Tucker, to introduce an Honor pledge on all examinations. The students at the University accepted this new rule with a great deal of arrogance. Some felt that the faculty was trying to be tyrannical, and it caused them to boil over constantly. When they fell to rioting, they rioted boldly and excessively.” The reporter also boasted that “at no time since the establishment of the Honor System has it ever been maintained with such fidelity as now.” (Oct. 15)

1955: In December, the Bad Check Committee announced that it faced something of a crisis with nearly $250 still unpaid in bad checks passed by students and less than $100 left in the fund to cover them. “At the present time,” The Cavalier Daily reported, “the Bad Check Committee’s powers of collecting from the student are in a peculiar position. When the committee was established, any student who had passed more than two bad checks was automatically turned over to the Honor Committee. But through disuse this procedure has died out, so that the committee now only makes personal appeals and tries to cover any unredeemed bad checks at the end of the year out of its own funds.” A few weeks later, on Feb. 8, 1856, the Bad Check Committee announced changes to its procedures. “The primary aspect of the new plan is that a student failing to rectify a bad check within two weeks of notification by the committee automatically must appear before the Honor Committee.”

1955: A student voiced his concerns that the Honor Code was being violated by numerous students who steal coats in Cabell Hall. “The Student Council has spent a lot of time with the parking problem and in trying to decide whether or not one breaks the Honor Code in lying about his age at the ABC store. The University is run with a very effective Honor System (or so they say), so let’s see them get together to make Cabell Hall safe for coats and other personal property and put a stop to this nonsense of some people improving their wardrobe at other person’s expense. All too many times it falls on the students who can least afford to put out the money for a new coat each year.” (The Cavalier Daily, Dec. 9)

1956: “Two wallets were ‘mislocated’ yesterday in the gymnasium. And adding to the tragedy is the fact that this is not an isolated case, but just one more in a long line of thefts in the dressing rooms of Memorial Gymnasium. Last year there was a serious wave of stealing, which eventually stopped after many men had lost wallets, clothes and valuables. The official explanation was that it was the work of local non-students, but there was a general feeling that the real culprits were closer to home … maybe the Honor Committee could take some action.” (The Cavalier Daily, March 7)

1956: “The Honor System and University of Virginia are synonymous phrases in the minds of most students. We have such complete confidence in the system that it seems as immutable as the Blue Ridge or the earth of Albemarle County itself. Yet how many students know that over 100 students at the University are not governed by the Honor code. These students, nurses living at McKim Hall, have a separate system, which is vastly different from that governing the rest of the student body. … The existence of this [separate] system threatens the reputation of the University Honor System. The McKim Hall girls are students of the University for all intents and purposes. The state and the country will have a changed opinion of the Honor Code if news of this backwater gets abroad. … It is imperative that McKim Hall adapt itself to the University Honor code immediately.” (Cavalier Daily editorial, March 17) In an April 26 referendum that followed, nursing students voted 143 to 7 to officially join the University Honor System (as reported in The Cavalier Daily on May 1). “The problem of the nurses’ representation now faces the Honor Committee,” a reporter wrote. “The extension of the jurisdiction of the medical school representative to include the nursing school has been suggested as a possible solution. The inclusion of the president of the nursing student government on the Honor Committee in cases involving a student from her school is also being considered. The Business School now has a similar method of representation.”

1956: During the Summer School session, a new rule went into effect that required all students, not just first-years and transfers, to sign the Honor Pledge cards. It was reported that “no credit can be received for work done at the University until [a student’s] signature is received.” Also this fall, a newly expanded honor orientation period went into effect—from the traditional one-night session to a full three days.

1956: At the annual honor orientation meeting for first-year students, economics professor Tipton R. Snavely discussed the origins of the Honor Code. Like speakers in past years, Snavely contended that the Honor System was born in response to students dislike of the strict rules by which exams were given in the early years of the University. Snavely made no mention of the murder of Davis in connection with the origin of the Honor System.

1956: “The University’s ‘most cherished possession’ can function as well with 10,000 men as it did with 150, but the task of transition will not be easy. It can be accomplished only by careful shepherding on the part of the Honor Committee and every individual on the Grounds.” (Cavalier Daily editorial, Sept. 19)

1956: There was confusion among students in the fall as to whether the use of someone else’s Athletic Card to gain access to Memorial Gymnasium could be seen as an Honor Code violation. Honor Committee Chairman Keith Wood said, “It is not strictly speaking an offense, [but] the committee strongly disapproves of such action and feels that it encroaches upon the spirit of the code.”

1956: A Cavalier Daily reporter, writing about the origins of the Honor Code, wrote, “The impact of the incident [the murder of Davis in 1840] was great enough to bring about the exchange of the old system of proctors for a new and more lasting Honor System.” (Oct. 10)

1957: In a letter to the editor of The Cavalier Daily in March, a first-year student criticized the black boxes that occasionally appear in the student newspaper announcing the dismissal of a student by the Honor Committee. “The appearance of these dismissal announcements can never in any way be conducive to true positive thinking, which, in this case, should be true honor through respect, and not obedience sustained by fear. A negative approach to such a positive good is both disastrous and futile.”

1957: In the fall, alumnus and law professor Hardy Dillard spoke to first-year men about the history and significance of the Honor System. “Honor justice is swift and terrible, and the defendant is made to feel his guilt in a most poignant manner.” He described the honor violator as “a man distinguished from his fellows not by the fact that he is less a ‘good guy’ than they, but rather by his sniveling weakness, and his inability to live by a code which requires a certain moral toughness not found in the coward.”

1957: As the result of a referendum held in October, the number of students serving on the Judiciary Committee was increased from 10 to 14. The Student Council was also officially separated from the Judiciary Committee. (Until then, the council had served as something of a grand jury for student misconduct cases, conducting preliminary investigations and determining if they were serious enough to send to the Judiciary Committee. After the referendum, the Judiciary Committee assumed full responsibility.)

1957: The names of students who had failed to sign their Honor Pledge cards that year were listed on the front page of The Cavalier Daily.

1958: David F. Apple, chairman of the Honor Committee, wrote an open letter to clarify some “mechanics” of the Honor System. “In a case where a student notices activity which he believes to be in violation of the Honor Code, it is not necessary that there be two or more accusers before an accusation can be made. It is preferable, however, that when circumstances permit, other possible accusers be present. When a professor notices what he believes may be a violation of the code and asks students to investigate, that they should do so as speedily as possible.” (The Cavalier Daily, Feb. 27)

1958: Editors at The Cavalier Daily questioned the vitality of the Honor System. “Is honor at Virginia a reality or is the Honor System a great hollow shell which had its birth in Richmond, Charleston, Savannah, Atlanta and the old South and whose entrails disappeared with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox? If the Honor System is going to be the living ideal which people say it is, then there is a need for some serious reflection on the part of some individuals to answer these question which are now arising and which will continue to arise for a long time in the future. And if it is not to be that living ideal, then the hypocrisy of the statements had better be ended and some grammarians set to work to define exactly what honor means at Virginia.” In a follow-up editorial a week later, editors pointed out the bad checks that went unpaid each school year at the Corner, escalating rushing violations by fraternities and the lying about one’s age at ABC stores to obtain alcohol—all to underscore their concern for the health of the Honor System. The editorial proposed a solution: that the administration “limit the size of the University. … We feel that the Honor System has been taken all too lightly by many students, and we are calling for a re-examination and re-evaluation of it to ensure its presence in future years at the University.”

1958: “From some of the questions which were raised at Wednesday night’s [Honor orientation] meeting, it was evident that some first-year men held the Honor System in fear. We offer this imperative—Do not be afraid of this way of life, but regard it with reverence and awe, and be proud to live as a gentleman from the University.” (The Cavalier Daily, Sept. 26)

CONTINUE TO PART II, 1960 and beyond >>