Doing It–Creating Controversy at SMU

Cover of controversial student handbook, “doing it.”

During the summer, our friends at the William G Jones film archives discovered a fascinating, and little known, story

about an uproar at Southern Methodist University in its WFAA Newsfilm Collection.  The controversy centered over the student handbook. Student handbooks are often the most mundane of publications—they’re rarely even read by the students who are the target audience. Not so, in September 1974 here on the Hilltop.

SMU’s first student handbook was published by the YMCA for the 1916-1917 school year.  It listed the names of faculty, administrators, and the officers of both the YMCA and the YWCA, and published the football schedule. Most importantly, it had a listing of all sorts of college slang for incoming freshmen including “Prexy” for President and “the dump,” for the men’s dormitory.

First student handbook at SMU

The handbook evolved into the “M” book, which continued to be published by the YMCA. It focused on clubs, traditions, the structure of the university, and some rules and regulations. There was usually space for students to keep a calendar or notes within the book–encouraging them to use the handbook for more than just the first weeks of school.  The “M” book was distributed to all students.

In the fall of 1968, the Office of the Vice-President for Student Affairs began publishing the SMU Enchiridion. The SMU Enchiridion was a manual of rules governing students of Southern Methodist University and mainly contained rules and regulations. In the fall of 1973, the Student senate formed an ad-hoc committee to create a new student handbook.  This was done with the blessing of Student Affairs.  The committee completed its work in the summer of 1974.   This time, however, the editors decided to have a little fun with the publication.

Doing It poked fun at campus security, the women’s symposium, students, and the administration. Reflecting its time, the handbook mentioned drug use, premarital sex, and used profanity. The straw that broke the camel’s back was this photo.

Male and Female students in a men’s bathroom

The Student Senate, after spending $6,400 on production and printing, rejected the handbooks, and refused to distribute them. Someone, however, broke into the Senate offices and stole 200 copies–and distributed them widely.  After more deliberation, the Senate reluctantly authorized distribution of handbooks with a disclaimer attached saying that they were not authorized.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs updated the Enchiridion, which became the “official” handbook for school year 1974-1975.  It only had rules, regulations, and organizational structure. There was nothing about student clubs or activities.

Although right now, only five student handbooks have been digitized, the SMU Archives is planning to digitize our whole collection from 1916 to 2006.  Stay tuned to catch them all.