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Social changes reflected in University's
evolving student conduct code
November 2, 1998
Rules of conduct for students have changed dramatically during the history of the University.
When the classroom doors first opened at Storrs Agricultural School in the fall of 1881, boys seeking admission had to supply "a certificate of good moral character" signed by their clergyman or a member of their hometown school board.
A daily record of behavior and proficiency was kept for each student, and if a student's rating dropped below 50 (on a scale of 100) for an extended period, expulsion was the punishment.
Administrators and faculty were well aware of their role in the moral upbringing of their charges. Henry Ruthven Monteith, professor of English and chair of the Committee on Discipline, created in 1901 by the faculty, said in a 1909 report that faculty should not forget that, to students, "we are 'in loco parentis,' and unless moral obliquity - of such a sort that to deal gently with it would have an evil tendency upon others - is involved, great patience and repeated effort to influence by personal persuasion should be exercised."
The concept of an institution serving in loco parentis ("In place of the parent") was first applied by the courts to higher education in 1913, four years after Monteith's report, in a decision for a case in which a restaurateur challenged a college's right to prohibit students from patronizing any local "eating houses."
Rules of conduct were published in the annual prospectus for the Storrs school in its early years. In 1921 the institution, by then known as Connecticut Agricultural College, published its first student handbook, setting out rules of conduct.
That first handbook included 19 "commandments" that largely applied to freshmen, with emphasis on the second syllable of that word. Rules specifically for women did not appear in the handbook until the early 1930s, under a section titled "Coed Frosh Rules."
In the 1920s, the rules included showing proper respect toward all faculty and upperclassmen, and wearing coats and ties to all meals and ties to all classes. Attendance at all home athletic events was required, and freshmen had to learn all college songs and cheers in the first two weeks of the fall semester.
The freshman beanie - a mainstay until the late 1960s - had to be worn at all times "until Easter recess," says the 1921 handbook. Violators of these rules were dealt with not by the administration, but by the sophomore class - perhaps intent on gaining retribution for the humiliations its members suffered in their freshman year.
The administration dealt with the more severe problems of cheating, gross immorality and insubordination.
As the enrollment of women increased, housing rules became stricter - for women. The 1935 handbook notes that Holcomb Hall, the women's dormitory, also housed offices and classrooms, and quiet had to be maintained during the day and after 8 p.m. No musical instruments nor radios were allowed during class or study hours in the dormitory, and women were not allowed to wear "house slippers with heels" during study hours.
There is no indication that such rules were applied in the men's dormitories.
Rules including curfews, limitations on visiting between the sexes, and rules of behavior and dress in class, at athletic events and social events such as teas, continued until around 1970.
Enrollment rose suddenly following World War II with the arrival of substantial numbers of ex-GIs, for whom some of the rules seemed childish. Curfews for women were kept, but were moved later - even as late as 2:30 a.m., although only after a University-sanctioned dance.
By the mid-1950s the rate of change slowed, followed by relatively rapid change in the late 1960s. The civil rights and women's liberation movements spread over the nation's campuses, along with protests against the Vietnam War, and students questioning authority demanded to be treated as adults, not children.
Striving to be heard, student leaders and followers trashed traditions - as well as administrative offices - that they believed to be symbols of the establishment. Along with the yoke of in loco parentis and other authority, freshman rules, Greek organizations, formal dances, and even mascots, were tossed aside. Only in the 1980s did these begin to return.
Old enough to go to war, old enough to drink and vote: the tide of society flowed with some student protest, and state after state lowered the drinking age to 18 in the early 1970s. Curfews and other dormitory restrictions were lifted at UConn, dorms went coed.
Yet, while the yoke of authority was coming off the backs of students, the yoke of personal responsibility was being forged. Wearing jeans to class, visiting the opposite sex during class hours and staying out late are not crimes; vandalism, sexual assault and underage drinking are.
By 1966, rules about beanies were a fading tradition, and now the student conduct section of the UConn student handbook had a more weighty tone, stating that the University prohibited immoral or indecent acts and the showing of pornographic films. In a three-and-a-half page section on conduct, the University's alcohol policy is in the handbook for the first time - taking up four typeset lines, and stating that possession and consumption of alcohol, and the deeper problem of drunkenness, "are not approved by the University."
Drugs and narcotics were dealt with the for the first time in the 1968 student handbook, again just a few lines.
In the early 1970s, the rules on student conduct were codified, taking up five pages of the 1972 "Student Almanac," a tabloid publication that replaced the student handbook for about a dozen years. And for the first time, the University included procedures for disciplinary hearings and how to appeal a judgment.
In 1973, the code expanded to nine pages, with regulations on alcohol and drugs taking up more than two pages.
Alcohol policies were revised in the 1980s when Connecticut and most other states raised the drinking age back to 21. Since 1990, these policies have been published in a document separate from the student handbook.
The current student handbook and student conduct code can be found online at the Dean of Students's website (http://www.dosa.uconn.edu/).
Mark J. Roy
Sources: annual reports, student handbooks, and other University publications since 1881. These materials are available at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.