Catch and release: Oddfellows bat set free

While Allegheny College has remained mired in hotter-than-usual weather since the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year, the heat is not the only thing hanging around.

Students and faculty alike have reported seeing bats in buildings around campus.

John Miller, assistant professor of English, said he saw a bat outside his office in Oddfellows Hall the morning of Monday, Sept. 3.

“I walked in, put my stuff down, opened my door, came out, started getting some coffee, and as I came back into my office, I was startled to discover this black creature hanging from the ceiling right outside my office door that I had somehow missed the first time I stepped into the building,” Miller said.

Miller said while he had heard of students encountering bats around campus, he had never had an encounter.

“This is my first campus experience with bats,” Miller said. “I have heard of students having them in their dorms — in fact, I know two of my first-year advisees dealt with a bat in their dorm about two days ago, I think — so I know that it happens around campus, but I’d never had one.”

After noticing the bat, Miller said he went into his office and closed the door.

“I think I actually first looked around to see if there was anyone else to notify about the bat, but no one else was around, or they were all in their offices with doors shut or talking to someone, and so I came in and I tried to think about what to do,” Miller said.

Miller decided to take a few pictures of the bat and email the rest of the professors in the Department of English, asking what the preferred course of action was.

“I’m relatively new here. It’s the beginning of my fourth year,” Miller said. “I’ve never encountered a bat on campus before, so I didn’t know if we should be alerting someone about it or if there was a protocol, so I emailed everyone and asked.”

Miller said classes started to let out at about this time. From the door of his office, Miller said, he could hear students discussing his email about the bat sighting.

“So I opened the door and discovered our heroic chairperson, Professor (Matthew) Ferrence, with a recycling bin that he had borrowed from Professor Susan Slote, and some kind of metallic cardboard covering,” Miller said. “And he got up on a chair and covered the bat, slipped the covering over, and took it outside, and released it.”

Ferrence said he saw Miller’s email about the bat as he got into his office after a class. Ferrence said he decided to try to take the bat out himself, as he did not want to see the creature harmed. He said he had not encountered a bat at Allegheny before, but there were a lot of him in his house when he was growing up.

“Well, my first thought was, ‘who do I call,’ and then I realized I probably don’t really want to call anybody,” Ferrence said. “First of all, it was Labor Day, and then I didn’t want somebody to come and hurt the bat, which I don’t think anybody from the college would have, and then I recalled my bat background. They’re easy enough to catch.”

Ferrence removed the bat from the ceiling and took it outside.

“Professor (of English) Susan Slote provided a blue recycling container, and then I grabbed a piece of scrap aluminum that I have in the back of my office, because who doesn’t have scrap aluminum in their office, and I used that just to gently cover the bat and knock him off the tile,” Ferrence said.

Slote said she was happy she could assist Ferrence, but was glad she did not have to do too much more.

“He was kind of cute,” Slote said of the bat. “I felt sort of sorry for him, but I was also kind of glad that Professor Ferrence took him outside.”

Once outside, Ferrence put the bat on the ground, Miller said. The bat did not move at first, so Ferrence prodded it and it flew off.

“It took off, and sort of winged its way around (Allegheny Hall),” Miller said. “I don’t know if it went in there, but it flew away.”

As I came back into my office, I was startled to discover this black creature hanging from the ceiling right outside my office door that I had somehow missed the first time I stepped into the building.

— John Miller, assistant professor of English

Miller said he found the timing of the incident to be appropriate, considering a discussion he had held recently in his English 455 class.

“We talked about an article called ‘What is it like to be a bat,’” Miller said. “It’s a famous philosophical meditation on the problem of consciousness by Thomas Nagel, and so we just actually talked for a long time about bat minds and what it was like to be a bat, a bat’s experiences and the ethics and problems of trying to imagine your way to a bat’s mind. So it was kind of cool that it happened to show up right then.”

Miller said the incident was also appropriate because some of his scholarship revolves around the treatment of animals in literature.

“Some of my interests include animal welfare, the representation of animals in literature, and I’m wondering if we have a policy here, what we’re doing, who’s decided on that, and if anyone has, because it seems like it’s actually a surprisingly widespread problem, like people are running into bats a decent amount,” Miller said.

Brian Gillette, assistant director of Physical Plant, said the department recommended students talk to their resident advisers if they saw a bat in their residence halls.

“If they turn up in a residence hall, we ask that you get a hold of your RA or Public Safety, and we’ll send someone to take care of them,” Gillette said.