Art of theft finding expression at NIU

By Ken Goze

It seems that the world’s oldest profession is on the rise in the residence halls.

No, not prostitution—thievery. Anthropologists might argue the point, but long before our ancestors thought to trade sexual favors for goods, they realized it was much easier to simply walk off with someone’s food and furs or, in the time-honored tradition of street thugs, bash them over the head with a mastodon bone.

In its highest form, theft is an art. We have a grudging respect for crooked genius. We are fascinated by gem heists, computer fraud, and counterfeiters. You have to admire the guy who spent months tunneling under a bank vault.

But skullduggery and stupidity are a turnoff. Mugging and armed robbery is a junkie’s game. Ditto for the screwheads that pop up in police beat for stealing a 50-cent washer from Farm and Fleet. You feel like hanging them from their nostrils by fishhooks for being stupid.

This profession, if you will, has evolved over the centuries and taken its place in our institutions of higher learning.

University Judicial Officer Larry Bolles said last week that there seems to be a rash of complaints from residence hall students about missing items. Student housing officials, what few of them could be found, downplayed the reports, saying there wasn’t much of a problem.

As in most cases, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. As anyone who’s lived in the dorms will tell you, books, CDs, cash, and just about anything else under 75 pounds has a nasty tendency to grow legs.

What they haven’t been willing to admit is that the crooks aren’t always gangbangers and drifters from Chicago or Aurora. As often as not, the thief lives a couple doors down, or maybe in the other bed.

Over the last few years, “measures” have been taken to restrict movement within the halls, and the theory goes, keep out the crooks. For instance, in the towers, after 7 p.m., you have to use your key to work the elevator, which takes you only to your floor.

The basic idea is sound. You don’t want strangers running around the floor after say 11 p.m., and every weekend there’s always a shifty-eyed rakish character that someone lets on the floor that no one knows.

But the current system works like a watered-down form of house arrest. Gone are the days when you can just stop by a friend’s room on another floor after dinner. Most of the time, things are stolen because of someone’s stupidity, usually the victim’s.

The first thing they say is, “I only left the room unlocked for a minute.” It was probably half an hour, and even if it was a minute, that’s enough time for even the flabbiest thief to negotiate a dorm room.

There’s a code of ethics among my Romanian Gypsy relatives that views theft a “stupidity tax.” If you leave something alone in an unlocked room, you don’t value it or need it, and deserve to get ripped off. Not the most altruistic view, but it has a common-sense ring to it.

If theft is a problem in the residence halls, as it is everywhere, then it’s time for residents and officials to stop playing with Stalinist measures and either look after themselves or wait for the tax collector.