0kamari Clarke taught a course last term on the anthropology of religion, in a classroom that proved the gods just might be crazy.

The lights of WLH 208, the classroom in which Clarke lectured, are controlled by a motion detector. When no one is in the room the lights automatically turn off, presumably lowering the University’s energy costs. But since at least this fall, the motion detector has been on the fritz and now the lights turn on and off for no apparent reason.

Clarke had her students wave their hands to bring back the light, and the waving served as a good example of a quasi-religious ritual.

But the one thing Clarke never did was ask someone to fix the lights. Neither did professors Paul Bushkovitch, Cynthia Russett nor Ben Kiernan.

It’s the stereotypical professor reaction: to be more concerned with the relationship of myth and power in Africa than with the relationship between lights and note-taking in a second-floor classroom.

It’s also the typical human response. Indeed, it appears that none of the students nor any of the TAs had taken the initiative to solve the problem.

“It probably requires a very minor adjustment,” Russett said. “But nobody ever complained. I guess that’s the problem.”

Economists have a name for this phenomenon: the free-rider problem. One person will exert the time and energy while many others, who did nothing, will benefit. This provides a disincentive for anyone to do anything.

Unless you write a column called “Michael Kolber, Problem Solver.”

During Kiernan’s Tuesday class on Southeast Asia, the lights went out 10 times during a 75 minute lecture. Two outages lasted nearly two minutes.

Professors who have taught in the room have had various reactions to the defunct lighting system.

“One of my TAs had to keep going like that,” Russett said, as she waved her hands above her head. Last fall, Russett taught a class on 20th century American intellectual history.

Kiernan’s reaction has been to keep lecturing without interruption, perhaps on the theory that pretending that the lights are on will bring them back on.

Just as the lights went out the first time Tuesday, Kiernan was talking about 1930s Indonesia.

“It’s a bit disconcerting,” Kiernan said after the lecture. When the lights first went out, he thought they would eventually stop going out. “Now I don’t notice it.”

He does make an effort, however, to hop around a bit during lectures, in hopes of catching the electronic eye.

“At least it doesn’t bother Professor Kiernan,” Laura Bufford ’03 said. “It drove our Russian professor crazy.”

Bufford is in Kiernan’s class and took Bushkovitch’s class on pre-1815 Russian history in the fall. Eventually, Bushkovitch found that if he stood in a spot near the window in the front of the classroom the lights didn’t go off. He spent much of the rest of the term in that spot, Bufford said.

After exploring the Office of Facilities Web site a bit (you should explore it too. It includes gems like the Kronos Time Clock map.), I thought the best way to get the light fixed would be to fill out the “Web form” Facilities Service Request. The form is on the Web, but to submit it you need to fill out an Excel spreadsheet and then fax it to the Facilities Office, which I did last Friday. The lights were not fixed.

So I tracked down Robert Daly, who is custodial supervisor for the Cross Campus area. He told me Thursday that if I e-mailed him the details, he would get the light fixed. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Meanwhile, Kiernan, who has taught at Yale for 12 years, continues to teach in the occasional dark. He said he’s never experienced before this problem here or when he was teaching in his native Australia.

“The light’s a bit different down there,” he said.