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LJWorld.com weblogs Heard on the Hill

What happened when a KU student's oral exam was broadcast live on TV

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This is a story that I couldn't quite fit into last week's article on the death of former KU campus titan Francis Heller, but that I need to share with you in some form. It comes from Fred Morrison, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, for whom Heller was an adviser and an instructor while he was at KU as an undergrad during the late '50s and early '60s.

In addition to numerous other roles during his decades at KU, Heller at one time helped lead KU's famed Western Civilization program and taught the Western Civ courses. Morrison, a young man from a small western Kansas town who would go on to become a Rhodes Scholar, was a student in Heller's Western Civ course in 1958.

For some reason someone — Morrison cannot recall who — had the idea for a Kansas City TV station to broadcast part of one student's final exam of the Western Civ course, which was done in an oral format. Morrison was selected as the lucky student. Heller and two other professors were to pose questions to him.

But the exam was not EXACTLY going to be broadcast live; the three instructors and Morrison rehearsed their questions and answers a few times before the broadcast started.

Then the camera went live. Heller, as he'd done during the rehearsals, asked the first question. But this time, the question was completely different.

No one else involved expected this, Morrison said. For his part, Morrison says he recovered from the shock and gave him an answer. But when the camera shifted to the next professor who was to ask a question, he just stared, silent and dumbfounded, as Kansas City watched. He couldn't handle the deviation from the script.

It goes to show, Morrison said, that Heller always tried to push his students in a way few other instructors did. He did not favor taking the easy road.

"That's the way he liked to play it," Morrison says.

So, students, as you begin your semester tomorrow, take heart in one thing: At least none of your tests will be broadcast live on TV.

But if, for some reason, one of your tests IS broadcast live, or if you have any other KU news tips, please let me know at merickson@ljworld.com.

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