Magazine Feature

Sandra Dallas: Playing pranks at the Clarion

Sandra Dallas. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Sandra Dallas. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

The headlines in the Clarion were big and bold and took up most of the front page: “Tuition Hiked Five Dollars Per Hour For Spring Term; Students Must Pay Increase This Week.”

We published the issue the first day of spring quarter registration in 1959, and it caused panic among students. The Clarion ran a picture of protesters holding signs, one of them reading “Don’t Take Our Beer Money; Away With Your Tuition Raises,” in front of Chancellor Chester Alter’s office window. Inside the paper were interviews with student leaders about the dramatic jump. Five dollars—an increase of $75 for 15 hours a quarter—doesn’t seem like much now, but it was a huge sum for students paying less than $200 per quarter back then. They inundated the admissions office with demands for financial help and requests for late payment. And why, they asked, hadn’t they been told ahead of time about a tuition increase?

Few of them noticed a disclaimer buried in the paper saying there was not a word of truth in the article. “April Fools,” it read. The paper was dated April 1, 1959.

A weary representative from the admissions office called Clarion editor Arnie Grossman late that afternoon to thank him sarcastically for the interesting day they’d had, and Grossman was reprimanded by Chancellor Alter. Grossman defended the issue, claiming freedom of the press, but the chancellor said that didn’t mean freedom to deceive. Neither Grossman nor those of us who worked on the paper had a moment of regret, however. The issue was part of the fun of being on a school newspaper, one with little oversight.

The April Fools issue was neither the first nor the last example of journalistic zeal of that era. Later that spring, the Clarion led the charge to invalidate an election in which students admitted cheating. The following calendar year, a student leader who lost in that second election sneaked into the Clarion office, swiped copy and ads waiting to be picked up by the printer, then threw them into a storm sewer. Within hours, we put together a four-page issue with headlines blaring that the Clarion had been stolen.

Many of the members of the Clarion staff went on to illustrious careers in journalism and writing. Grossman became a successful advertising executive and novelist, while editor Dick Martin went to the Wall Street Journal. I went to BusinessWeek. Duane Howell, who photographed the “protest,” spent his career as a photographer at the Denver Post. Both Robert (Voy) Stark and Joyce Carlson, who were pictured among the “protesters,” became artists. Others got jobs as reporters.

Those careers were exciting and fulfilling, but it’s unlikely that anything we published in later years was as exhilarating as that April Fools’ issue of half a century ago.


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