“Large Scale Dishonesty”: The 1936 Cheating Ring

1936 Student Council. From the 1936 Yackety Yack,  http://digitalnc.org

In January of 1936, a first-year student exposed a cheating ring among the UNC Chapel Hill student body. Under the rules of student governance and the honor system, the Student Council took responsibility for investigating the organized cheating with the power to administer punishments as serious as permanent suspensions. The Council first met in relation to the cheating accusation on January 29th, 1936 and within a week, suspended 46 students. The large scope of the problem and decisive action taken by the Student Council called into question the efficacy and purpose of the honor code. This cheating ring even affected the Student Council President,  Jack Pool, who stepped down from his position “when he indicted himself for a cheating offense committed five years ago” (Daily Tar Heel, 2/4/1936). Pool was replaced as President by Francis Fairley, who is pictured above.

Bradshaw to House
Dean of Students Francis Bradshaw to Dean of Administration House. From the Office of President of the University of North Carolina (System): Frank Porter Graham Records, 1932-1949 (#40007)

At the outset of the scandal, Dean of Students Francis F. Bradshaw wrote to Dean of Administration R.B. House informing him that, “through the devotion and intelligent effort of a student group, this matter has at last been run to ground. The students are assembling what appears to be complete detailed evidence of dishonesty on the part of a considerable number of students.”

House to Graham
Dean of Administration House to President Graham. From the Office of President of the University of North Carolina (System): Frank Porter Graham Records, 1932-1949 (#40007)

House then wrote President of the University Frank Porter Graham, stating that “As distressing as the situation is, I rejoice that the students are the ones who are clearing it up and that we seem to be in the way of clearing up a grave threat to integrity and honor in our student life.” Graham publicly responded with a pledge of honor at a first-year class assembly where he expounded that “Carolina is going to be more honorable than ever before from now on. The students are the only ones who can clean this cheating out, and they are doing it. There will be no wrist slapping. You can’t stay at the University if you cheat” (Daily Tar Heel, 2/4/1936).

The cheating scandal garnered national attention with with mixed popular opinion. The honor system was simultaneously lauded for its efficacy and transparency and derided for allowing such widespread cheating to take place. Many family members and friends of those suspended wrote to President Graham in apology or support. In one such letter, the mother of suspended student Paul Wagner said that on a trip to UNC, “the Devil took possession of him”  and that her son had “been rated by the so called brain specialists as an unusually smart boy.” Mrs. Wagner concluded that she had “no one to blame but myself” and thanked the administration “for every thing you have done for my boy.” Several family members and acquaintances of former Student Council President Jack Pool also wrote to President Graham in his defense. Graham wrote to Pool’s mother, “How deeply we appreciate what Jack has done at the University as a man and as a leader. He took a brave stand here this year as president of the student body and then sacrificed himself in the cause that he was fighting for.”

By the end of the investigations, over 150 students were found to have participated in the cheating ring. Not only did this include Student Council President Jack Pool, but also members of Phi Beta Kappa and the Order of the Golden Fleece. However, many of the suspended students, including Pool, were reinstated soon after their punishment. The most common result was a failing grade and a loss of credit in the class in which a student cheated.



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