By Steve Holt, Opinion Editor
At 7:40 a.m. Dr. Jeff Childers is climbing the steps to the Biblical Studies Building, as he does each morning before his 8 a.m. classes. It’s April 1, 1999, and the associate professor of Bible, ministry and missions has no reason to believe this day is any different than the other days this week.
Walking down the hall to his office, he turns the key and pushes the door open. Turning on the light, he notices that nothing in his office is in the correct place. The desk is on the opposite side, the bookshelf is in the wrong place, and picture frames are in all the wrong places. In fact, looking closer, he realizes that the pictures are not his at all, and the office looks peculiarly like that of Andre Resner, then an instructor in the College of Biblical Studies.
Now nervously disoriented, Childers knows where his office is supposed to be. This was his.
Finally, a secretary arrives and lets Childers into Andre’s office down the hall, only to find all his own office items adorning the room.
Intruders had broken into his and Resner’s offices the night before, meticulously swapping their contents. The intruders had switched everything in the offices-down to the precise measurement and hanging of framed pictures, switching and turning on both computers, changing the phone numbers and switching the nameplates on the doors.
The desire to be noticed. The pursuit of a good laugh. An effort to top the last one. Analyze them any way you wish, but practical jokes have been a mainstay on the ACU campus since its doors were opened in 1906.
John Robinson, chair of the Department of History, recalls a surge in practical jokes the first time Volkswagen Beetles appeared on campus. “In 1957, more than once some heavyweight students lifted one from its parking space and placed it at awkward spots,” Robinson said. “For example, on the porch directly in front of the west entrance to the music building, which was then the student cafeteria.”
Robert Oglesby, instructor in the Center for Youth and Family Ministry, gradated from ACU with a bachelor’s degree in 1981. He, too, remembered a prank involving a Volkswagen. “My roommate had some students steal his car keys and drive his VW Bug up the ramp of the McGlothlin Campus Center and park it in front of the glass doors,” Oglesby said. “They had hoped the first time he would see it would be as he walked to breakfast. Campus security found it at around 3 a.m.”
Another guffaw involving cars was the numbering of all 1,168 vehicles parked on campus with white shoe polish. The still anonymous perpetrators, three ACU students who spent two-and-a-half hours completing the work on the morning of Sept. 10, 1979, said the best part was “hearing everybody talking about it the next day.”
While cars are always popular prank targets, more than a few jokes have required the services of one or more animals. The most recent example of such a joke is when a group of freshmen released “Balzac” the Goose, who normally resides in Nelson Park, into Cullen Auditorium during a campus movie in the spring of 2001. Moviegoers were engrossed in the showing of Unbreakable, when the loud honking usurped the movie. Luckily, a brave man near the goose subdued the restless foul, carrying it outside. Shortly after, however, Balzac was released again; this time in a Mabee Residence Hall room.
Robinson, who graduated from ACU in 1960 and began teaching history in 1965, said that he heard of a group of students in the mid 1930s going “bovine” in their pursuit of a laugh. “Before my time, some students managed to get a small cow up to the third floor of the Administration Building one night,” Robinson said. “You can imagine the problem this presented the next morning as administrative workers returned to their jobs.”
The cow was the property of university president James Cox. The incident with “Cox’s Cow” is still remembered today by older graduates of the university.
Faculty and students in the College of Business Administration may often be thought of as too focused and serious. But if history rings true, COBA-ites know how to have a good time too.
Dr. Monty Lynn, chair of the Department of Management Sciences, recalled a time in 1990 when former COBA faculty member Dr. David Osborn advertised a garage sale at which several of Osborn’s old ties were being sold. Another business professor stopped by the garage sale and, without Osborn’s knowledge, bought all the ties and distributed them among the business faculty. Every faculty member wore his tie to classes the next day.
“After teaching in the ties, walking with him to Chapel and a long afternoon of pregnant expectation, David still had not recognized his own ties,” Lynn said. “The professors decided to blitz-they gathered with David to drink coffee around a big round table in the faculty lounge. After a few moments, Dr. Osborn said to one of the faculty members, ‘Hey! I’ve got a tie just like that one…except mine has a stain just about-.'”
Students are always trying to change the appearance of structures on campus-students once converted the square outdoor lamp covers into dice with a little black paint, labeled the newly built Moody Coliseum an “Astrochurch” and have written a variety of messages on the side of the McGlothlin Campus Center above the main entrance. A blue toilet was even hoisted to the top of Omega Point, the obelisk in front of the entrance to the Margaret and Herman Brown Library, once.
One of the most recognizable pranks altering a structure on campus involved some adventurous students, and has actually happened more than once. The letters on the side of the Margaret and Herman Brown Library weren’t always fastened securely, and one morning several letters were missing, leaving the phrase, “Margaret and Her Brown bra” on the side of the building. The prank was pulled a second time, this time with only masking tape covering the unneeded letters.
Many have dreamed of climbing to the top of the Tower of Light, but someone made this dream a reality Friday. Breaking a lock off the door leading into the monument, an unidentified intruder connected a radio to the sound system at the top of the tower. The student timed the radio to play music over the campus at around 10:50 a.m., when bells normally chime traditional hymns.
Administrators and campus security personnel were not amused at the stunt, however, as the Abilene Police Department and ACU Police were both called to secure the area in case of any danger related to the prank.
This response is common after practical jokes involving security breeches and various unknowns. Wayne Barnard, dean of Campus Life, said many pranks are in poor taste.
“On one hand I understand pranks-they are making fun of life in general,” Barnard said. “More often than not, however, they are misguided and often not well thought-through.”
He added that pranks are viewed differently by this generation, as most things in society are more extreme than in past generations.
“People are a bit bolder these days,” Barnard said. “We have extreme sports and such things-we tend to be ready to do some bizarre things.”
Barnard is careful to distinguish the difference between malicious pranks and those meant to cause a chuckle. He said his problems with pranks come when the victims of pranks are unwilling participants.
“To those students who think about pulling a prank, it is really important to think about who’s involved,” Barnard said. “You should really know the person.”
Regardless of campus policies toward practical joking, college students have always seemed to find a way to express themselves in a humorous, public way.
Not too long after Childers and Resner were duped, four seniors and a freshman confessed to the all-night excursion in the Biblical Studies Building. They all had developed relationships with Childers after being in his classes at one time.
Childers said he sensed that the students targeted him for a reason. “Deep down, there’s a sense of connection there,” Childers said. “To have gone through that kind of trouble was sort of a warped expression of respect.”
He concluded from the clever “office switch,” however, that in reality students have access to many different offices on campus and could really terrorize the university if they so desired.
“The whole event sent shockwaves through faculty, many of whom suddenly realized for the first time that the students really are running the place,” Childers said. “The students are a network of little criminals, and if they wanted to, I guess they could use their powers in dastardly ways.”