In the years preceding 1936, offering credits for graduation consisted of sitting and having a chat with the Dean of the University, either J.M. Page or Ivey F. Lewis. New requirements set in place for the 1936-37 year outlined the necessary courses for graduation. As the University began its move toward increasing modernity, this aspect of one's college experience changed too. Students found themselves asked to declare a major two years prior to graduating as well as attending a minimum number of courses in a department to declare that major. Dean Page, who actually held both the Dean of the University and Dean of the College appointment until his retirement in 1933 (College Topics, 1933), wielded a not inconsiderable amount of power then over the lives of his charges. Much beloved by his students, Page had the particular bearing to admonish his students to work harder and remain their friend and confidant. Following his retirement at age 70 due to ill health, Lewis assumed his Dean of the University post with equal aplomb. Equally important in the life of the Virginia man was Ms. Mary Proffit, secretary to both Deans. Ms. Mary, as she was known to the scores of Virginia graduates, handled all disciplinary actions, in addition to the transcripts. Sandy Gilliam, current Secretary to the Board of Visitors and son of a distinguished Virginia professor, remembered his first presentation to Ms. Mary when only a toddler. "She told me I was to come to the University when I was of age." And like most men Ms. Mary spoke to, Gilliam did as he was told (personal conversation, 4.28.99).
Comprehensive finals (oral and written) plus the creation of the diploma with honors served as spurs for the newly serious young scholar in 1933. Likewise did the curriculum changes announced to the Catalogue consisting of additions in Latin, Chemistry, Philosophy, and Math. The wonders of Analytical Geometry and Metaphysics were soon at hand.
Dabney points to the dearth of student discipline problems in the early 30s as evidence that the "hard times may have caused the students to take greater advantage of their opportunities" (141). Palmer Weber CLAS '31, GSAS '37, Ph.D. '40, corroborates. "I went to the movies once and may have had one date, but basically, I worked and worked very much like a machine because...I desperately wanted to stay" (Oral History, 3).
Differing accounts speak to the difficulty of the school. Widespread consensus casts the University as a less than rigorous academical village. More important than the scholarship Virginia men turned out was the education they received. Herein lies a subtle difference in vision that hearkens back to the one man on grounds who might sit at God's right hand, Mr. Jefferson. Jack Dalton CLAS ????? believed the academic permissiveness that the 1933 requirements sought to curtail was more reflective of the educational ideals of the University's founder (Oral History, 15-16). Part of the tradition of the Virginia Gentleman held him to be a renaissance man of sorts, at home in a variety of pursuits--though expert in none. The concept of the Gentleman's "C" held the minds and hearts of the student body with authority. In fact, "Don't Give A Damness" influenced much of students' actions. Essentially, a student was expected to conduct himself with indifference and unassailable calm whether in the classroom, on the playing field, and especially in social settings (Dabney, 152). Students truly took this thinking to heart and found a number of other activities outside the classroom which they made sure didn't interfere with their education.
Richard Brandt, bemoaning the scholarly lassitude of the 30s, complained that one could goof off for weeks at a time and then "come through" on the final exam or paper and pass the class (Oral History). He goes on to relate how the War changed this thinking and school became a means to avoid the draft. The plethora of social outlets (see Social Tales) provided ample opportunity for students to ignore their studies for much of their time at Virginia. Weber, on the other hand, spoke only highly of his scholarly life at the University. "I can't conceive of having had a better opportunity [than to study at Virginia]. I think the faculty were simply a fabulous faculty" (Oral History, 5). Professors were taken up with teaching, "to finding minds, to finding the mind that could be set on fire and that they could keep going. So from my point of view, the University [in the 30s] was in an actual Golden period" (ibid.). Later in his interview with Chick Moran of the University Historian's Office, Weber recounts his taking a Shakespeare course in which he read a play a week, outlined its structure, and memorized 50 lines. Clearly, the class made an impression for in the next breath he quotes _The Tempest_. Regardless, the common custom of Distinguished Scholars did little to ignite a desire for attending the classes wherein these passionate professors might be found. If a student carried an average GPA of 87, he was exempt from half his classes the following term.
Virginia's graduate departments were certainly on par with like Southern institutions. Dabney (166) places them even with Texas, Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Rice. Faculty salaries, in particular, served as notice that Virginia privileged teaching as they were the highest in the South for the year 1934(Baxter, 34).
The discussion over coeducation, while not an undergraduate reality at Virginia until the 1970 session, nevertheless occupied the student body. The October 12, 1933 College Topics ran the headline "Read All About the Co-eds on the Lawn" in an effort, presumably, to pique its all-male readers' interest. At the time, the article reports, more than 100 women were enrolled at the school. But by 1934, the CT opined against the inclusion of women in the classroom, believing it to be contrary to Jefferson's plans. More to the point, Professor H.P. Johnson offered, "Women are lovely creatures, but they should not be educated" (both Dabney, 68). Another sign of the times, and the society, came in the form of an African-American's denial to the University on the basis of the tradition that "the education of white and colored person in the same school is contrary to the long established and fixed policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia." This from the Board of Visitors in 1935 (ibid., 146). Some more virulent aspects of the Southern tradition died more slowly than others.
Studies at Virginia during the period usually took a backseat to social education or extracurriculars. Virginia men might work hard for the final few weeks of the term in order to make up for past slacking, but on the whole seemed to emphasize moderation in work. As the Depression years gave way to the War years, increasing pressure mounted on Virginia men to succeed at their studies.