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Posted By: Russell Eisenman on June 25, 2012
What should a college be? How can we correct negative experiences? First, we have to know what is really going on at the college. I had some bad experiences at the University of North Carolina, my first undergraduate college, in 1958. Understanding these experiences can help us understand colleges better and look for ways to improve things. I hope UNC people do not react defensively to what I report, but take it as helpful criticism, to try to make things better at all colleges.


I was trying to decide what college to go to when I was about to graduate from Savannah High School, Georgia, in 1958. My parents told me they could only afford to send me to a college in the South. In my mind, the top southern collleges were (in no particular order) University of North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, Vanderbilt, and Emory. I did not realize that colleges often get their reputation largely from research and perhaps athletics, which has nothing to do with undergraduate education. My first choice was UNC. I wrote for a catalog, but they did not send it. I had to write about 3 times to get a catalog. Another student, Bill, from Savannah High who also wanted to go there wrote about 5 times, never got a catalog, and gave up on the idea of attending UNC. A very smart student from Savannah High, Tom, did decide to go to UNC. I do not know what his experience was regarding obtaining a catalog.

Freshmen were required to attend orientation a few weeks before the start of the 1958 Fall Semester. My dad drove me up there. During the orientation I was shocked to learn the following from the orientation guide: "The university feels that boys and girls learn better when they are separated, so freshman (and sophomore? I am not sure) women are not allowed to attend the UNC campus at Chapel Hill. Instead, they attend the UNC Women's College in Greensboro, NC." It is amazing that I was never told this until orientation. I never would have applied to what would be, essentially, a male-only college, at least for the first year (or two?). My dad suggested I try to get in some other school, but it was very late and I was already psychologically committed to UNC. But, it turned out to be bad, as I feared. I almost never met any women students and all my classes were all male. I made many friends and acquaintances during my one semester at UNC, almost without exception, only males.


During orientation we were told that one could be kicked out of schoool, or have other sanctions imposed, for failing to be a Carolina gentleman or Carolina gentlewoman. However, the terms were never defined. This is typical of what people with power often do to those under them, the powerless.


On my application to UNC it asked for religion. I thougt about putting "none" but was afraid this might cause me to be rejected. So, I put "Jewish" which is technically true in one sense, but basically wrong since I was not raised Jewish nor do I believe in the religion.

Since UNC was such a male-oriented school, I thought I might join a fraternity as a way to meet women. But, I only got invites to visit the 3 Jewish fraternities on campus. It turns out that a secretary went through the applications for admission and put a "J" next to all students who listed themselves as Jewish. The University denied that they had instructed her to do so.

I did not like the fraternity emphasis on drinking and on group conformity, so I did not join any of the three I visited. I do not know what, if any, effect the "J" next to my name had on other matters.


One of the most horrible things the school did was try to flunk out many undergraduates by having a 5-point rather than 10-point grading system. In other words, at UNC an A was 95-100%, a B was 90-94%, etc. I ended up with mostly C's on my transcript, which reflects grades in the 85-89% range but no explanation was given as to the grading system. So, it looks like I was a C student there when at any other school I would have been a high B student. They also incorrectly listed my B in Western Civilization as a C on my transcript when my accurate grade was a B. When I eventually discovered the error and wrote to them, they corrected it, but in the meantime my transcript had gone out to many schools I was applying to.

The reason behind why the school put us through this horrible grading system was that the state required them to accept anyone who had a C average in a North Carolina high school. So, they had to accept students they did not want to accept, and their solution was to impose a tough grading system and try to flunk out many freshmen. I did not flunk out but it put a lot of pressure on me.


I think I may have been sexually abused by a UNC doctor. All freshman males were required to stip nude for a medical exam and lie on an examing table. The doctor who examined me pushed my testicles into my body 10-to-20 times, pushing very hard and causing me pain. I feared that he might also cause an erection, which did happen. It was embarassing. I partly sat up and pulled the trunk of my body inward to try to make the erection subside. It worked, but instead of letting things go the doctor said to the others around him "He's got me beat by 10 years."

Psychologically, I had no sense that I could complain during the exam or question what was being done. There were several psychological things going on: he was a doctor, this was a university sanctioned event, I was 18-years old and laying naked on a table, it was the 1950's and people obeyed authority, etc.


Given how little the undergraduates seemed valued, it might come as no surprise that the undergraduate teaching was, overall, not good. My teachers in English and in Mathematics were graduate students, and my other teachers were not that good, either. For instance, I had an elderly Physical Education coach as my Health teacher and he would forbid any classroom discussions of important topics, such as should you value your fiance being a virgin? The discussion would start to occur and he would stop it.

In Western Civilization we had a good teacher, a young man who perhaps had just gotten his Ph.D. But, we were required to go to the library and read massive amounts of material on reserve about ancient governments or kingdoms in Europe. This was extremely time consuming and a waste of time, other than to get a good grade on the exams. In English, we had to read from Samue Pepy's diary about the London fire of 1666. Another waste of time, in my opinion.


For the most part, my first and only semester at UNC was composed of many negative things. Perhaps reading about this will make others sensitive to them and enable them to look for similar occurances at their schools and to then correct bad things that happen.

I did have some good experiences. I wrote a column for the Daily Tar Heel, the university newspaper, and I was on the debate team, debating against such schools as Duke, Notre Dame, Navy, Maryland, etc. Due to my multicultural interests I met many students from all over the world and had several friends or acquaintances, although almost all of them were male.

Only once did I run into Tom, from Savannah High, on the campus. It was near the end of the Fall semester. We chatted briefly about how bad the school was. He said "This place is nothing." We both decided to leave at the end of the semester. I called my parent and told them I was leaving UNC at the end of the semester. Then I cried, because I was a quiter, a loser.

Russell Eisenman, Ph.D.
University of Texas-Pan American
Department of Psychology
Edinburg, TX 78539-2999

E-mail: eisenman@utpa.edu

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 TAR HEEL TROUBLES: BAD EXPERIENCES AT UNC, 1958 by Russell Eisenman on June 25, 2012
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