This one goes into the 'hoaxes as educational stunt' file. Last week a rumor raced around the campus of Smith College in Massachusetts, alleging that the administration was planning to ban meat from the campus, as well as any food not grown in New England. It was going to become a vegetarian/locavore campus.
There were protests on campus, and counter-protests. Students posted their thoughts on facebook and twitter. Some wrote them in chalk on the sidewalk. A lot of students said they were worried the change would mean they'd have to go without coffee.
But the rumor turned out to have been a hoax organized by two philosophy professors, Jay Garfield and Jim Henle. They told the students in their Introductory Logic class to convince the campus that the rumor was true. The professors hoped the assignment would teach the students about rhetoric and argument in a fun way.
This isn't the first time the professors have assigned a hoax as a class project. From the Boston Globe:
There was the time the professors planted the rumor that Smith, a women’s college, was planning to fire all of its male faculty members, including themselves. The president was deluged with angry letters.
There was the year of the alleged merger with nearby Mount Holyoke College, a proposal lots of students at Mount Holyoke took seriously, even as Smith’s scoffed.
And then there was the year of the supposed grass-roots attempt to start an ROTC program. Most of the campus didn’t fall for that one, but the president, Carol Christ, did.