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Crime and punishment at Notre Dame

Joey Falco | Monday, March 5, 2007

In some ways, much of Notre Dame life is structured around a complex bureaucracy whose sole purpose is to distribute punishments to all of the bad little boys and girls on campus. Penal institutions like DuLac, ResLife, Rectors, ARs, RAs, NDSP, Bill Kirk and the Ninth Circle of Hell all serve to warn the student body that just because college is a parentless sanctuary doesn’t mean that we all get to run around naked worshipping a pig’s head on a stick. Unfortunately, acting up here will get you far more than a spanking and a time out in your bedroom. Just ask Kyle McAlarney.

Still, in many ways, we have it good. We can drink in our dorms (sorry Morrissey), tailgate ourselves into cirrhosis and lead social lives that are – for the most part – unrestrained. Sure, there’s that much-maligned sex clause in the rule book, but until ResLife starts strapping chastity belts onto all incoming freshmen, sexual promiscuity will remain about as easy to enforce here as it always has been in the Oval Office.

At the very least, we certainly have it better than our predecessors at Notre Dame did.

In the first few decades of the University, particularly when the campus contained both grade school boys and collegians, life was more reminiscent of a modern prison camp than a modern college. Every single second of a student’s day was regulated and overseen by a prefect or Brother. The acts of waking up, eating, using the bathroom, dressing, praying, studying and sleeping were all strictly regimented to such an extent that Father Arthur Hope, author of “The Story of Notre Dame,” wrote that “no one at Notre Dame had any freedom.”

Perhaps the most intensive efforts to govern student life, though, came as a means of preventing them from traveling into the city of South Bend and visiting places like Chafin’s – the predecessors of Corby’s, Finnegan’s and Club Fever. In the words of Father Hope, “The most frequent complaint against students, as the college grew, was their tendency to imbibe.”

The best record for these early “drunk stories” of Notre Dame is a detailed ledger known as the “Black Book” – still available for perusal in the University Archives-which notes the many student misdeeds which occurred between 1867 and 1881. Maintained by the Prefect of Discipline, the Black Book offers a hilarious look into the often absurd penal system in place at Notre Dame during the early years of the administration of the Congregation of the Holy Cross.

Nearly every page of the Black Book contains at least one story of a student who traveled to South Bend and returned to campus drunk. Since $2 cabs were not dutifully waiting at Main Circle in those days, students had to be much more inventive when it came to planning their escape. Many, for instance, would fake an illness and go to the infirmary. When the attendant there had gone to sleep for the night, the students would sneak out and run the two or three miles into town. The tales of their subsequent expulsions speak volumes about the rigid penal system in place at the time.

In September of 1867, according to the Black Book, “two students went to town … and both came back intoxicated …. On the morning of the 24th, in a meeting of the President, Vice President and Prefect of Discipline, it was decided to send them home – which was accordingly done.” Now imagine Father Jenkins, John Affleck-Graves and Bill Kirk gathering together every time a student returned to campus drunk today. They would be locked in a room 24 hours a day with all the expulsions they would have to distribute.

In 1868, one student “was expelled for going three times to South Bend and returning the last time beastly drunk.” Another “had a thirst for whiskey and would go to South Bend to get it. December 17th [he] was sent to where he could obtain plenty of it” (home). The next year, a similar fate met “a young man who seemed to have an unquenchable thirst for whiskey,” and another who was “expelled for continual drinking.”

Clearly, even the most heroic seven-night-per-week drinkers on campus today owe their ability to avoid expulsion to the valiant efforts of the “beastly drunk” men of the 1860s who would even defy the great Father Sorin in their efforts to satisfy an “unquenchable thirst for whiskey.” They may not have their portraits hung in the Main Building alongside the likes of Father Badin and Father Corby; they may not have a cheeseburger named after them at CJ’s along with the Four Horsemen of the Rockne era; they may not have statues honoring them on campus like Father Hesburgh, Father Joyce, and Frank Leahy. Nevertheless, to much of the Notre Dame student body, these were certainly some of the first campus heroes.

Of course, not every punishment recorded in the Black Book relates to drinking. By my estimation, between 1867 and 1881, over 150 students were expelled from Notre Dame – and this at a time when Father Sorin dreaded expulsions because of the tarnishing effect that it had on the reputation of both the student and the school. Some were expelled for “insolence, disobedience and profanity.” Some were “good for nothing fellows,” “very poor specimens,” or “very bad young men.” One porn-peddler was kicked out “for having in his possession an obscene book which was captured.” Some temperamental students were even “abusive and impertinent toward … teachers.”

One 1874 student in particular caught my eye, as the Prefect wrote, he “was extremely addicted to grumbling. He thought that there was too much religion here and not liberty enough for youths of his age. He declared his intention of being expelled.” Certainly, before today’s students make similar complaints about the University’s religiosity – which many of us have – it would be useful to put ourselves into the shoes of this poor man who had it infinitely worse than we ever will.

In the past 135 years, much has obviously changed for the better about the Notre Dame penal code, yet being college students, that doesn’t stop us from being “extremely addicted to grumbling” about these rules. Perhaps, though, we should be a little more thankful that we don’t live in 1868 (or in Morrissey today) and begin to appreciate our hard-earned freedom to get “beastly drunk” without the risk of expulsion, among other things.

Because let’s face it: It’s no fun getting banned from this amazing place. Just ask Kyle McAlarney.

Joey Falco is a senior American Studies major and Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy minor. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer