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Students and professors at Columbia University in New York were surprised on Jan. 29 to see an "Extra! Extra!'' edition of the student newspaper, the Columbia Daily Spectator, proclaiming that Benno C. Schmidt Jr. would become the university's next president.

Mr. Schmidt, the former dean of Columbia's law school, last year resigned as president of Yale University to become the president and chief executive officer of the Edison Project, Whittle Communications' effort to develop a nationwide network of private schools.

The special edition of the Daily Spectator, distributed during a Columbia-Yale basketball game and elsewhere around the campus, contended that Mr. Schmidt has become disenchanted with the private school project and wanted to return to academe.

Had the student newspaper come up with a major scoop?

It appeared plausible to many on the campus, since Columbia's current president, Michael I. Sovern, had indeed announced his resignation some months ago, and the university was close to naming his successor. And Mr. Schmidt was booked on a flight from Knoxville to New York, as the newspaper said.

However, the special edition of the paper, printed on plain paper instead of newsprint, was an elaborate spoof. The suspected culprits range from the editors of the Yale Daily News to students at Cornell and Princeton universities.

The genuine Daily Spectator last week ran an article about the hoax and examined some of the clues as to who may have perpetrated it. For example, someone claiming to be from Yale had called the newspaper the previous week seeking details about access to dorms at Columbia, the paper reported.

The editors of the Yale Daily News issued a statement that neither confirmed nor denied their involvement with the spoof.

Mr. Schmidt, meanwhile, told the paper that, while he was involved in the search for a new president of Columbia, he was never a candidate himself.

Columbia last week named George E. Rupp, the president of Rice University in Houston, to succeed Mr. Sovern.

"Nick News W/5,'' the news show for young people on the Nickelodeon cable-television channel, has moved to prime time.

On Feb. 7, the show began airing at 8 P.M. Eastern and Pacific times. The television journalist Linda Ellerbee is the host for the weekly series.

Producers of the show contend that, since its debut in April 1992, the show has regularly drawn a larger audience of children ages 6 to 11 than all three major broadcast network news shows combined.

"Nick News W/5''--the W/5 is short for who, what, where, why, and when--is repeated on Saturdays at 1 P.M. Eastern and Pacific times.--M.W.

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