Categorized | State Side

Fact Checking at the U

One of the best things about MSU is its long history. But with history comes stories, rumors, lore and a cloud of myths surrounding the university’s policies, precedents and past. Most of the time, these myths sit at the back of students’ minds, in the vague musings incited by a stroll past an old building, or in casual conversation with friends. But as a curious Spartan and dedicated staff member of TBG, I set out to settle several of the nagging questions about MSU that students have had for years. I tried my hand at myth-busting, and the results are below.

MYTH: If a person gets hit by a CATA bus, they get free tuition.
FACT: According to a worker at the CATA office who did not wish to be named, this is “absolutely not true.” The worker also forgot to note I was asking for my readers and not for myself, and told me there were lots of ways to pay for school, so I shouldn’t jump in front of a bus. It’s not every day that my desire to live is questioned, but her unnecessary concern was appreciated.
The fact that attempted CATA suicide doesn’t pay for school is further verified by RHA representative and freshman criminal justice major Kevin Fleury, who recently attended one of the CATA sessions on rate increases.
“Somebody at the session asked the CATA representative if that rumor was true, and the representative said it definitely wasn’t,” Fleury said.
REACTIONS: Fleury had an interesting perspective on the myth, having actually witnessed a biker being hit by a bus. “It was raining, and I was on a bus that was turning from Farm onto Shaw,” Fleury said. “A kid went to cross Shaw on a bike, and a bus turned into him. He was okay – he got up and started fixing his bike. But they did call the police. [cata12]
“It’s a well-known fact that CATA recruits retired NASCAR drivers to drive their campus routes,” Fleury joked. “But I don’t think anybody should benefit from not looking both ways before you cross the street.”
Wes Holing is a journalism graduate student who, with two other students, founded the Web site www.spartysecrets.com. A skeptic and myth-buster himself, he had a hard time believing the CATA rumor. “I would assume that’s not true, just because CATA isn’t affiliated with the school itself. They might pay you a settlement, but I don’t know about tuition.”

MYTH: Playboy released a statement in 2003 reading, “Michigan State University will no longer be included in our annual top party schools, because we feel it is unfair to include professionals on a list of amateurs.”
FACT: This statement was never published, and is part of college lore at several universities. In fact, Playboy does not even publish an annual list of party schools. They published lists in 1897, 2002, and 2006. Michigan State ranked at No. 20 on the 2002 list, and did not rank on the other two lists.
The rumor that “professionals are not included” circulates at several colleges that didn’t make the list, and has no validity. The Princeton Review really does do an annual ranking of party schools. Incidentally, MSU is not on their 2008 ranking.
Although this is purely speculative, I would suppose that memories of the 1999 riots in East Lansing were what landed MSU on the 2002 list. Torching cars, breaking windows, burning furniture and assaulting police are not typical reactions to a basketball loss. Police from neighboring towns were brought in, and pepper spray and tear gas were used for crowd control. If that’s what it takes to land on a list of party schools, I’m pretty glad MSU didn’t make the cut.
REACTIONS: While some students are inevitably crushed, many students would still call MSU a professional party school. “I think that it doesn’t matter what school you go to, there’s always going to be parties if you go out and look for them,” Chinese studies freshman Andrew Bristle said.
However, Bristle was a little surprised MSU didn’t make the national listings. “From what I heard in high school, I would have thought MSU was on the list. But I can see how high school kids would get that impression,” Bristle said.
Holing did an article on the subject for Sparty Secrets, and talked to Dr. Dennis Martel of the Olin Health Center about MSU’s data on drinking. “The reality is that it’s becoming a very safe school in terms of drinking,” he said. “People still drink a lot, but the party school mentality of being irresponsible and crazy isn’t really there.”

MYTH: An MSU student died in the 1970s while participating in a role-playing version of Dungeons and Dragons in the steam tunnels that run below the university.
FACT: The myth is based on the story of James Dallas Egbert III, an MSU student who disappeared in 1979. While he casually played Dungeons and Dragons, it was never proven to be the cause of his disappearance. Nonetheless, the media focused on that aspect.
Egbert was eventually found by William Dear, a detective hired by his parents. His story did end tragically, however. After returning to his parents, Egbert killed himself. However, no death took place in the tunnels of MSU.
Egbert’s story inspired William Dear, the detective who found him, to write The Dungeonmaster: The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III. It also inspired a book titled Mazes and Monsters, and later a made-for-TV movie of the same title that starred a young Tom Hanks.
REACTIONS: For the most part, this myth exists in students’ memories as vague hearsay, or they don’t remember hearing about it. “I didn’t hear that myth… I didn’t even know there were steam tunnels under MSU,” pre-veterinary freshman Chelsea Kocis said.
As for the Dungeons and Dragons component, Kocis is amused. “I played Dungeons and Dragons in elementary school. They modified it into a physical game we could play in gym class,” Kocis said. “So I associate it with my childhood; I wouldn’t play it in college. And I certainly wouldn’t connect it with a boy’s disappearance or suicide.”
I also associate Dungeons and Dragons with my childhood, mainly because my parents (both MSU alumni) were always making sure I wasn’t playing it. They are still of the school that’s convinced D&D was the root of Dallas’s disappearance, and warned me from an early age of its supposed dangers.
For some, the aspect more mysterious than D&D is the tunnels themselves. “I have a fascination with those tunnels. I really want to go inside of them,” Bristle said.

MYTH: If a person’s roommate commits suicide, they get a 4.0 for the semester and free tuition.
FACT: Simply untrue. To solve this mystery, I turned to 40-year faculty member and current ombudsman Stan Soffin, who frequently handles both student complaints and university policy. When asked about the myth, Soffin laughed. “There’s one word and two letters for that.”
However, he conceded that grade-wise, a student could receive breaks on a case-by-case basis. “If a faculty member wants to give a student a break for some sort of catastrophic event, the faculty member has a right to do that. But the university policy… doesn’t touch any of that,” Soffin said.
REACTIONS: This myth doesn’t appear to be MSU-specific. “I’ve heard that at a lot of schools… they made a movie about it,” Holing said. The movie, a 1998 comedy, was called Dead Man on Campus. In it, two college boys who realize they are going to fail the semester go in search of a suicidal roommate to boost their grades. As a fan of the movie, I can’t bring myself to give away the ending. But it’s good.
While she concedes the death of a roommate would be tragic, Kocis thinks a perfect GPA and free tuition would be over-doing it. “I think they should get some sort of compensation; that’s obviously a tragic event,” Kocis said. “But not necessarily a 4.0 or tuition.”
As a fair solution, Kocis proposed a student get a financial break on housing instead of grades. “The university should provide the affected person with a new room instead. That’s the part of their life that’s the most affected. Or if they don’t want to deal with anybody new, a discount on a single,” Kocis said.

So by my estimation, MSU lore is largely untrue. Of the four myths explored, we have 3.5 false ones (I’m counting the disappearance of J. Dallas Edgar III as half-true – he didn’t die in the tunnels, but he was a real person). Statistically speaking, this means that “false” is probably a good guess about most of the rumors around campus. But with hundreds of myths left to explore, who knows? A university as historically rooted as MSU can never truly live in the present. Questions about the past are bound to stump students for years to come.

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