Legend: A professor, in response to yet another inquiry about whether he will be giving a quiz the next day, informs the class that the day he enters the classroom through the transom will be the day he holds a pop quiz. One day later that semester the professor climbs into the room through the transom over the door, quiz in hand.
Example: [Reader’s Digest, 1961]
Asked the oft-repeated query at the end of his lecture — whether he planned to give a quiz the next day — a professor at Mississippi State University answered nonchalantly, “A quiz? Why, I’d climb through that transom over the door before I’d give a quiz tomorrow.” A sigh of relief passed through the classroom. But next day, after the class had assembled, there was a sudden clamor outside the door. The transom began to creak open and, to the utter amazement of the students, in climbed their professor — grinning happily and clutching a three-page quiz in his hand.
Variations: In one version of this legend the students lock the professor out of the classroom when he is late, forcing him to enter via the transom (and then give the class a pop quiz).
legend has been attributed to several different college instructors, most of whom are claimed to have been circus acrobats. The most frequently mentioned name is that of Guy Y. Williams, a long-time professor of chemistry at the University of Oklahoma. Several former students claim to remember Dr. Williams’ having pulled off this feat in different years (the first as early as 1925), but other evidence contradicts that claim. (Dr. Williams does not appear to have ever been a circus performer, as claimed, and the former chair of the chemistry department at the University of Oklahoma said that Dr. Williams denied the pop quiz story.) Bronner mentions that history professor Guy B. Harrison of Baylor University also boasts of also having pulled off the same stunt.
This legend possibly originated as a cautionary tale warning students never to take anything for granted and to be prepared at all times, and/or as an expression of student anxieties over the difficulties of achieving good grades. On both counts it bears a strong resemblance to another examination legend, the Paper Chase.
Last updated: 25 March 2007
Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Mexican Pet.
New York: W. W. Norton, 1986. ISBN 0-393-30542-2 (pp. 192-195).
Graves, Oliver Finley. “Folklore in Academe: The Anecdote of the Professor and the Transom.”
Indiana Folklore. Vol. 12, No. 2  (pp. 142-145).
Reader’s Digest. “Campus Comedy.”
October 1961 (p. 32).
- Bronner, Simon J.
Piled Higher and Deeper.
- Little Rock: August House, 1990. ISBN 0-87483-154-7 (pp. 28-29).