Primary Resource

Meeting of the Faculty (May 22, 1830)

At a meeting on May 22, 1830, the University of Virginia faculty recalls the events leading up to a student, John Willis, assaulting a professor, Gessner Harrison.

Transcription from Original

At a Meeting of the Faculty in Pavilion No. 7, on the 22nd day of May, 1830.

Present.

Dr. Johnson

Dr. Patterson

Dr. Emmet –

The Chairman being unable to attend in consequence of the sickness in his family -

Mr. Tucker was appointed Chairman pro Tempore -

This meeting was called in consequence of an assault alledged by Dr. Harrison to have been made upon his person by John Willis - The Chairman pro tempore laid before the Faculty a letter from Dr. Harrison, stating, that in consequence of the relation in which he stood to the matter to be considered by the Faculty, he would not attend the meeting as a member, but that when his presence should be required he would be ready to attend as a witness -

Whereupon, It was resolved that Dr. Harrison be requested to appear before the Faculty -

Dr. Harrison accordingly appeared and informed the Faculty - that on thursday evening after 6 oclock a number of students were near his door, some of them using profane language & very loud - Mr. Willis was heard and seemed to be intoxicated, - Dr. H. walked out - and with a view of putting a step to the noise he spoke to Mr. Willis and told him, that his language was very improper, especially under the window of a Professor - Mr. Willis replied & said that he was not aware of having used improper language - to which Dr. H. said, that perhaps his situation prevented him from knowing it -

The next day immediately after Dr. Harrison's lecture Mr. Willis met him, and said that he had been informed that the language used by the Doctor the evening before was insulting - and Mr. W. demanded an apology -

Dr. H. asked Mr. W. how he had insulted him, and told him if he could be convinced of having used insulting language in reproving him, he would say that he did not intend it - Mr. W. could not say how he was insulted, not recollecting the particulars, but was informed that the Doctor's language was insulting - and admitted that he was intoxicated - Mr. W. told Dr. H. that he had no right reprove him, but merely to report him - Dr. H. contended that he had a right to reprove him - Whereupon Mr. Willis said "you have not and I'll be damned if you shall", and commenced an assault upon the person of Dr. H., who recd. several blows before he could get rid of his books - he then defended himself and called upon the students to relieve him, which they accordingly did -

Dr. Harrison then retired - and

Mr. John Willis having been summoned, appeared before the Faculty -

He said that Dr. Harrison used language insulting to him, and it was so considered by other students - the insulting language was to this effect - "the language of young men ought not to be tempered with such sauce" - and "I suppose your situation prevents you from knowing what you were saying" - these expression gave the offence - and induced him to demand of Dr. Harrison an apology - he would not give it - and Mr. W. assaulted him - admits that he had been drinking wine, not a great deal, but enough to interfere with his recollection - meeting with some friends from Orange was the occasion of his drinking - admits also that he had been swearing, and was aware that profane language was prohibited by the Enactments - Mr. W. thinks that Dr. H. ought to have reported him to the Chairman, and not to have spoken to him - that if a Professor insults a student , the latter has a right to resent it -

Dr. H. repeated to him the next day, that his language was unbecoming a young gentleman - he also told him that he was acting in discharge of his duty as a Professor - and that he conceived he had acted properly, and would make no apology - Mr. Willis would not have conceived himself insulted if he had been merely told that he was intoxicated, being so - it was Dr. Harrison's manner as well as his words which was insulting - Had sufficient recollection of the transaction to have induced him to call on Dr. H. if he had not had information from others - Mr. Willis having retired - the following preamble and resolution were unanimously adopted, without argument -

It appearing from the evidence given by Professor Harrison and the statement of Mr. John Willis, that the said Willis had been one of a party using profane and disturbing language on the lawn in front of Dr. Harrison's Pavilion and that he was intoxicated on this occasion, and that having been reproved by Dr. Harrison for his conduct, he had called on him the next morning, with a demand for an apology for this reproof - and this being refused, had grossly assaulted his person - Therefore -

Resolved, (Unanimously) that for these offences, the said John Willis be expelled from the University -

The Faculty then adjourned -

Robley Dunglison Chairman