As the US celebrates Halloween, a night of time-honored trickery, college campuses across the nation may find themselves the target of many a practical joke. What’s changed is how these jokes are carried out. Cultural shifts have altered the boundaries of what’s acceptable, and 9/11 has raised new security concerns. All of this has made administration-monitored pranking the norm for universities that wish to preserve the tradition.
At both Harvey Mudd and Caltech, students must get administrative approval before they perform pranks â€“ that way they can be left up for the entire campus to enjoy. When Mr. Mannion began working at Caltech 14 years ago, he was distressed by a decline in student pranks at the institution, which holds the No. 1 ranking on the all-time college prank list, according to the Museum of Hoaxes. Caltech took top honors for a 1961 Rose Bowl stunt, in which Washington students were tricked into proudly holding flip cards aloft to spell “CALTECH.”
Hoping to create a climate more inviting to high jinks, Mannion now counsels students about potential pranks, and, if he gives the OK, campus police and janitors are not allowed to stop the stunt. Caltech even has a $10,000+ fund to finance student pranks.