Fake Professor, Real Course

At U. of Rochester, a hoax gives chemistry students a scare in their first class meeting.

September 9, 2013

As the first meeting for Chemistry 131 started at the University of Rochester this semester, the instructor walked to the front of the lecture hall, and started in with some introductory remarks and rules.

And the students became somewhat petrified. The instructor told them that the course was "extremely hard," and that 55 percent of last year's students failed last year. He predicted that many of this year's students would have their pre-med dreams derailed. Further, he said that not only cell phones but also laptops were banned from class. Violations would result in "repercussions" for grades, the instructor warned. (And video footage shows a bunch of students rushing to close and store their laptops.)



Then, another professor walked in, asking the first instructor "who the hell are you?" before taking over the class.

The first instructor was there as part of a prank pulled off by the Chamber Boys, a student radio show. The real instructor -- Benjamin Hafensteiner -- was in on the joke.

Via e-mail, the real Hafensteiner said that the Chamber Boys asked his permission to pull off the hoax, and that he agreed. "The first class is always tough to get through and I though this would be an ice breaker to beat all ice breakers. It set a pretty high energy tone that I hope I can carry through the rest of the semester. They did a great job," he said.

While the course is challenging, the real data show that only 12 percent of students last year earned a C- or lower. And while Hafensteiner doesn't want to see cell phones in class, he hasn't banned laptops. Although he added that "seeing those laptops get killed was really satisfying!'



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