WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue University is banning the 'Nude Olympics' because letting students run naked on a winter's night is a health hazard and presents an improper image of the Big Ten school, the university's president says.
'When you've got 300 people running around stark naked at minus 50 degrees, you run the major risk of frostbite and losing tips of noses, fingers, genitalia, breasts, toes and so on,' said President Steven C. Beering.
Beering, who was dean of the Indiana University Medical School before becoming Purdue president, said he is bowing to a recommendation from a university committee and is banning the event, which started as a prank by male students in the late 1950s when 'streaking' was a fad.
Since then it has become a wintertime tradition for both men and women students on the north-central Indiana campus. The students shuck their clothes for an impromptu race around the University's Cary Quad square.
'It's certainly not a wholesome thing to have that kind of goings-on,' the president said, explaining it's just not a proper image for a Big Ten university with one of the country's finest engineering programs.
The event, which is not scheduled ahead of time, occurs late at night and generally on one of the coldest days of the winter when wind chill temperatures hit 50 below zero.
Thousands of people line the perimeter of the square to cheer on the contestants who usually have been primed with alcohol to serve as their antifreeze. Like the nude racing, the alcohol is illegal on the 'dry' Purdue campus.
Beering, who was among the spectators at last year's race, said he expects to prosecute students if they participate this year. Charges likely would be public indecency.
He admits he never has heard of any serious injuries, weather-related or otherwise, caused by the event.
Some student leaders, including editors of the campus newspaper and student government, claim Beering is wrong.
'It's the one thing a lot of students see as a Purdue tradition - one thing that sets Purdue apart,' said Ginger L. Thompson, managing editor of the Purude Exponent newspaper. 'It kind of belongs to the students.'
Thompson said she doubts if the school administrators would be able to stop the racing. And Purdue students return Monday from their between semesters break and it's still winter.