A Student Contests Judiciary Ruling of Faculty (1838)
    by Emily Richards, Undergraduate Research Assistant (Architecture, 3rd year)

In the winter of 1838, Henry C. Mayer is expelled for his participation in a major riot on the Lawn. Henry, upset at his quick dismissal, writes the faculty a very eloquent and substantial letter to plead for his readmission. 

Henry admits to participating in the riot and carefully outlines which deeds he did and did not perform. He attributes his participation to “recklessness and folly,” rather than to any malice against the University itself. In fact, the University’s unparalleled experience and opportunities is what drives him to write for readmission, rather than transfer to another school. The sheer respect and formality shown in this letter make it stand out as an exceptional example of communication between faculty members and students.

What is most fascinating about Henry’s letter, though, is the way he questions the faculty’s judiciary processes. He explains that when he was called before the faculty to explain his case, he refused to speak because he thought the faculty would assume a position of “innocence until proven guilty"; he would speak when he had to, but until then he would avoid giving any more evidence than necessary. Having little evidence at all, though, the faculty expels him, which is a fairly typical pattern for them in the early days.

Henry’s letter is one of the first examples of students respectfully contesting the unfair processes of the faculty.

Henry is readmitted, but that allowance comes alongside a similar ruling for another student whose letter pales in comparison. In their readmittance, the faculty emphasizes the necessity of those students following the laws especially carefully upon their return, diminishing the value of the letter Henry wrote by focusing on his law-breaking deeds; they never mention a faculty process reform nor comment on the accusation made by Henry himself, suggesting they had little intention of changing the way they made their decisions.

University of Virginia. Faculty Minutes. Vols. 4 and 5, Part 5 (19 December 1838): n.p.

Cite This Entry
Richards, Emily. "A Student Contests Judiciary Ruling of Faculty (1838)." JUEL, June 18, 2015. http://juel.iath.virginia.edu/node/16.

First published: June 18, 2015 | Last modified: July 1, 2018


Faculty Minutes; Volume IV: Part V: Lines 3184-3299