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How did medieval universities discipline their students? What classroom management techniques did they use?

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3 Answers 3

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In the US, you can get Rait's Life in the medieval university from Amazon for free.

There were a number of different punishments for various infractions, which also took the age of the student (children vs. adults) into account. They ranged from a beating over fines to expulsion.

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The answers and comments have mentioned Rait's Life in the Medieval University. To give a self-contained answer for this site, this book claims that punishments could be:

  • financial. This seems to be the most common: fines, loss of "commons" or "burse" (scholarships pro-rated over the period of the punishment), or "sconcing," which seems to be a fine to be paid (or consumed) in wine rather than money.
  • whipping and other corporal punishments. These were introduced in the 1500s; prior to this, such punishments were for boys rather than adult men. One stricter college would put students in the stocks for fighting.
  • loss of food. In some places, misbehaving students might get only bread and water, or may have to eat by themselves.
  • suspension or expulsion. These were reserved for more serious crimes, as now.

In some cases, students (and faculty) were outside the jurisdiction of the lay civil and criminal courts, so actual crimes up to and including murder were dealt with by the internal disciplinary processes of the university. Punishments could include incarceration. One on occasion, the city arrested a student for attempted murder, and the university had to choose the punishment among: cutting off the hand, burning the stigma onto the hand + banishment, or whipping + banishment (at length, option 2 was chosen).

It's worth noting too that the (non-criminal) "crimes" that could lead to such punishments are considerably different than what we have now. Since exams were oral, cheating and such was not really an issue; rather, most of the rules concerned personal conduct. For example, conversation was often required to be held in Latin; this had the explicit goal of reducing conversation altogether. Singing, games with dice, unusual clothing, skipping chapel, sitting down at meals in the wrong order, or missing curfew were often punishable offenses.

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  • A couple of additions to this: 1. At some European universities, students (and faculty) were outside the jurisdiction of the lay civil and criminal courts, so actual crimes up to and including murder were dealt with by the internal disciplinary processes of the university. 2. In addition to the methods of discipline mentioned, some universities had their own prisons, but AFAIK none had the death penalty. Nov 5, 2022 at 22:23
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    Fascinating if true -- if you can provide sources, I'd be happy to add to the answer.
    – cag51
    Nov 5, 2022 at 22:31
  • The source is Rait, as with the rest of your answer. Nov 5, 2022 at 22:35
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    Thanks, found it and added it.
    – cag51
    Nov 5, 2022 at 22:43
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    I’m in favour of reintroducing sconcing! Nov 5, 2022 at 22:49
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See Rait's Life in the Medieval University chapters

  1. College Discipline
  2. University Discipline

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