LONG BEACH — The call came in about 8:45 a.m. Monday.
"There is a bomb in electrical engineering," a male voice told the Cal State Long Beach clerk who picked up the phone. "We are Americans."
And indeed, within an hour university police had found a suspicious-looking brown package, covered by a copy of a campus newspaper, in a trash can on the fifth floor of the Vivian Engineering Center. So they evacuated 500 students and called the Los Angeles County sheriff's bomb squad whose deputies "detonated" the package with an explosive of their own. Only then did they discover its contents to be plant bulbs and fertilizer.
"Apparently it was a hoax device," said Sgt. John D. Spiller of the bomb squad.
That was the squad's first visit to CSULB on Monday. The second--also involving an evacuation--came about 9 p.m., when another "bomb" turned out to be a carton of rotten eggs.
Together, the incidents were the eighth and the ninth in a series of threats that, in the last two weeks, has disrupted classes, cost the university as much as $1,500 in overtime for security personnel and generally wreaked havoc in the life of this otherwise serene campus.
"We had bomb threats in the 1960s, but never anything as intensive as this," said university spokesman Gene Asher. "I think we've got some people with very morbid senses of humor."
Daily Routine of Scares
Although the threats initially caused some alarm among students, Asher said, campus reaction now seems to be evolving in at least two separate directions: anger at the inconvenience of evacuations, and an almost benign acceptance of a what seems to have become a daily routine of bomb scares.
"It's getting so that rarely do I walk across campus without seeing hordes of students standing around where they've evacuated another building," said Nancy Lobdell, a public relations spokeswoman for the university. Increasingly, she said, professors are simply continuing their classes outside while university police and, in some cases, sheriff's deputies search for the explosive devices.
So far none has been found, Asher said. But each threat is treated as if it were real. And Asher's nightmare is that if the threats continue, the university community will relax its guard to the point of inviting a tragedy.
Though the threats began about the time of the recent U.S. bombing of Libya, Asher said, he does not consider most of them to be politically motivated. Of the nine calls, he said, only two were from callers with Mideastern accents who alluded to the attack on Libya. The rest of the voices, he said, belonged to a seemingly unrelated assortment of American-sounding men and women calling campus offices ranging from the main switchboard to the security department and reporting "bombs" in a variety of buildings from engineering to liberal arts.
Some, Asher said, may be expressing genuine concerns. And "some may be cuckoo. Whatever the case, I think it's sick."
Students and university staffers attribute the rash of bomb scares to causes ranging from attempts by unprepared students to delay or postpone tests to simple college pranks.
University police say they are investigating the matter by, among other things, circulating tape recordings of some of the callers' voices to the academic deans in hopes that they will be recognized. Threatening a bomb, according to Lt. Gary Kamm, assistant director of the University Police Department, is a felony punishable by up to one year in prison.
Among the students, however, reactions are decidedly mixed.
Walid Gamaleldin, 20, a civil engineering major from Egypt who represents the School of Engineering in the student senate, said he and other Mideastern students were deeply offended by a statement made to the student newspaper by Richard Williams, dean of the engineering school, attributing the bomb scares to Mideastern students motivated by politics.
"It was an overt act of racism," Gamaleldin said of the quoted remarks. "I'm really mad. It's unfortunate that he would speak without any proof."
Contacted by The Times, Williams repeated assertions that the disturbances were caused by Mideastern students, but didn't think that all should be blamed for the actions of "two or three."
And Maxine Joblon, 28, a journalism major, said she was tired of seeing campus buildings cordoned off due to bomb scares. "Enough is enough," Joblon said. "It has ceased to be funny."
Elsewhere, however, there were--if not laughter--at least some minor chuckles over the effects of it all.
Masoud Dalirifar, 28, said he hadn't minded the disruption of his electronics class due to a recent evacuation. "I had a test and it was canceled," he said. "Every time you have a test you always want it to be postponed."
Some professors may be fighting back, however. Sepideh Sedadi, 26, a civil engineering major who has had four classes disrupted by bomb scares, said she has noticed a recent change. Last time it happened, she said, her class was in the middle of a quiz when it learned that a bomb had been reported in the building. "We finished the quiz," Sedadi recalled, "and then we evacuated."