The Paper Chase

Claim:   A (journalism) professor who promises at the beginning of the semester that he will never give an unannounced test surprises his class one day with a pop quiz. Over the students' protests, the instructor points out that he had run an ad in that morning's local paper announcing the test.


Origins:   This legend seems to have little point other than to serve as another example of the capriciousness of some college instructors. One possible explanation might be that a journalism instructor would expect (or require) his students to read the
daily newspaper as a matter of course, but expecting them to read all the advertisements as well seems a bit far-fetched. (Certainly nobody could be expected to read every ad in the classified section, or are we to believe the instructor paid for a display advertisement? Or perhaps the newspaper involved was the school newspaper, and that detail has been omitted from the text.)

This tale touches on two common elements of collegiate legends: an instructor's demonstration of his cleverness in catching his students by surprise, and a lesson in the dangers of accepting information at face value. (A similar theme is found in the transom legend.) Added, perhaps, to these elements is an expression of students' anxiety over achieving good grades — college is difficult enough without the rules being unexpectedly and unfairly changed at the whim of an instructor.

Last updated:   22 June 2011


    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Curses! Broiled Again!
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.   ISBN 0-393-30711-5   (p. 284).