About 100 students [in introductory logic] were told to convince the campus that it [a claim that the campus dining services would be going 100% vegetarian and local] was real by whatever means they thought would be most effective.I've heard of things like this before. A year or so ago (I think) a law professor started a rumor that one of the Supreme Court justices was stepping down, to prove a point about how quickly unverified rumors spread.
But what does the exercise above prove/teach? How bad the non-logic students at Smith College are at assessing arguments? How to be a sophist? Perhaps what the "lesson" is is one of the things the students are expected to reflect upon?
But what about the climate of campus trust? How long can a prank like this go on before it sets up a situation of reduced trust? What if the school does make a big, controversial change? Who can the students trust? I don't want to overreact, but I also think these are serious questions. If you think lying (and fooling others, etc.) is generally wrong, then can students learn to care about the truth by engaging in an activity where they deprive unwitting others of it? (Would something like this pass IRB? Does that matter?)