A royal flush: Communication department dedicates toilet to professor

Communication department head Helen Sterk knights Dr. Carl Kell, professor emeritus, during his chair dedication ceremony Feb. 9 on the first floor of the fine arts center.

Julie Sisler

A small crowd waited at the bottom of a staircase in the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts Center. They were gathered for a rather unconventional ceremony.

At 11:45 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 9, the crowd celebrated a toilet being named after Carl L. Kell, professor emeritus. Faculty, students, Spirit Masters and dignitaries from the department, president’s office and other areas of WKU gathered to honor Kell.

In the corner stall of one of the men’s restrooms in FAC, there is now a plaque above the toilet that reads “Dr. Carl L. Kell Chair of Rhetoric.” What started as an inside joke among professors has now been immortalized.

“About five years ago, a student or faculty wrote in magic marker on the back of the door, naming the commode,” Kell said. “It stayed up for quite awhile. I was really proud of it.”

However, after a few weeks of custodial staff attempting to wipe away the marker, it finally disappeared; thought to be painted over. Though the markings were gone, the legacy of the chair lived on. The chair of rhetoric became somewhat of a legend, Kell said. For years, the story continued to circulate.

It wasn’t until recently that Helen Sterk, head of the communication department, decided to reinstate the chair.

The faculty and dignitaries dressed in their ceremonial robes and even crowned Kell before ceremonially tapping his shoulders with a plunger. One person in attendance wore a bathrobe. The ceremony also included a parade through the men’s restroom so that each attendant could see the stall and plaque.

Kell said the department was pulling out all the stops for the event, including creating a formal paper program for the event.

“I asked for two ply paper for the day,” Kell said. “One ply paper is for everyday. Two ply is for special occasions.”

Many of those in attendance gave speeches. Sterk gave a speech, as did Larry Winn, professor emeritus, Larry Snyder, dean of Potter College of Arts and Letters and Derek Hull of the department’s Advisory Council. The speeches were full of puns and inside jokes, many of which left the audience both laughing and cringing.

“So inspired were the two [assistant professors who saw the writing] that they couldn’t bring themselves to sit down,” Winn said in his speech.

At the end of the ceremony, Kell took the makeshift stage to say a few parting words.

“You’re all involved in this conspiracy together,” he said to the audience with a sly smile. “I did a little research, and it seems that no other colleges or universities [in] America have a dedicated toilet. We are the first of its kind.”

The ceremony concluded with chocolate cake with brown roses. Sterk said she had to dissuade her assistant from unwrapping Tootsie Rolls to add to the decor.

Kell said he is excited about the new addition to FAC.

“I don’t know what all is going to happen, but it will be fun,” he said. “As long as they spell my name right, I’m good to go.”

Features reporter Julie Sisler can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow Julie on Twitter at @julie_sisler.

Correction, Feb. 12, 2018: The original version of this story referred to the toilet as the “Dr. Carl L. Kell Throne of Rhetoric.” It is the “Dr. Carl L. Kell Chair of Rhetoric.” The Herald regrets the error.