Student Group Protests Faculty Ban on Preacher (1838)
    by Rachel Gaffin, Undergraduate Research Assistant

                  The late 1830s proved to be a rocky one for faculty-student relations at the University of Virginia; the unruly student body often fell short of the high standard of conduct to which the faculty endeavored to hold them. Often, these misdemeanors came in the form of noisy parties, drunkenness, or even violence toward enslaved laborers on grounds. One case of unrest that Gessner Harrison, Chairman of the Faculty at the time, records in his journal stands out from the rest. On November 3, 1838, a group of students seek to bring a traveling preacher on Grounds. The reverend (Alexander P. Campbell), the students argued, ought to be allowed to preach in the Rotunda since he would preach only on "the evidences of Christianity" without introducing "sectarian issues." The faculty, in the interest of preserving UVa's secular environment - Thomas Jefferson having established UVa as the first secular university in America -  refused to allow him to preach, stating that to do so would set an "inconvenient precedent." Some days later, some students pinned a "notice" on the Rotunda door, calling a meeting of the students to rebuke the faculty's decision to bar Campbell from preaching. The faculty sought to prevent the meeting from happening, but on November 6th, three days after the initial request, the Rotunda's public lecture hall served as the students' meeting space. After their time together, the students had produced a set of "resolutions condemning the course taken by the Faculty." The next day, in response, a separate group of students "of good standing" asked permission of the faculty to meet in the Rotunda's public rooms to "prevent any evil consequences from the intended publication of the resolutions" adopted at the first meeting. In the midst of a year marked by tumult, these religious dissidents, and the faculty and students who responded to them, stand out as a rare instance of organized, non-violent student protest of faculty policy. 


University of Virginia. Journals of the Chairman of the Faculty . Vol. 6 (3-6 November 1838): n.p.