University campuses have always been places with lots of pressure and little supervision. From the time of the university’s founding, when there were only 41 students in one building in the middle of the woods, up to the present day, 30,000 students on 800 acres out of which rise some of the most state-of-the-art buildings in North Carolina, students have had access to the vices of their times—access that the administration has continually tried to control if not outright restrict. As James Johnston Pettigrew (famous for giving his name to Pettigrew Hall and a handful of other exploits) wrote in a letter in 1842, “a sojourn of two years and a half in a place like this, is enough to ruin a saint much more a mortal.”
The volatile combination of students and alcohol has been well documented since the founding of the university. But the industrial-scientific boom following the Second World War led to the creation of a variety of potent and readily available illicit substances—including Dexadrine, which plagued the university in the early 1960s, when amphetamine and similar drugs, such as Valium, were prescribed with wild abandon.
The abuse of Dexedrine, a popular diet pill of the 1960s now used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy, can be tracked through the correspondence, memoranda, and other policy documents held in the records of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. Abused for many of the same reasons as students abuse Ritalin and Adderall today, Dexedrine, of which Adderall is mostly composed, was used by some students to help them cram all night for exams. Above is a a letter from Dean of the General College Cecil Johnson to Assistant Dean of Student Affairs William Long remarking on this problem. Below is a letter enclosed with the first describing the sad case of a student for whom the pressures of higher education were too much and the use of Dexedrine ill advised.
The folders “Drugs 1961-1967” and “Drugs 1968-1972” contain references to various drug-related incidents involving students—allegations of LSD, marijuana, and heroin being sold out of Granville Towers; girls buying “Black Beauties” from boys in the Kappa Sigma House; and a Student Health Services pamphlet entitled “On Either Side of the Mushroom;” among other documents.
It should be noted that when the university created a new drug policy in the late 1960s, it was one of only a handful of schools that treated student drug use as a medical issue rather than a criminal one. The first offense resulted in medical treatment; the second, more treatment coupled with administrative action; the third, the student is turned over to the authorities.
The 1960s and ’70s weren’t the first time the university had dealt with its students abusing illicit substances. The Board of Trustees tried many times between 1796 and 1801 to ban students from local taverns. In 1827, the board petitioned the General Assembly to ban the distilling and sale of spirituous liquors “at or near Chapel Hill” and from selling alcohol to students. If those motions had stuck, Franklin Street would have looked very different than it does today.