Origin Story

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that “at least 14 residential students at the College of Wooster, in Ohio, have been exposed to or bitten by bats since the start of the fall semester” (Daily Briefing, September 9th). 

For University Life readers of a certain age, this story will undoubtedly bring to mind the strange saga of BITEMAN, the Bucknell University professor who terrorized the campus community in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania for more than three years in the early 1930s.

Harold Stumb, an assistant professor in the History Department at Bucknell, had been turned down for tenure in the spring of 1932.  When informed of the decision by the chair of the tenure and promotion committee, an enraged Stumb attacked him, biting him on the neck during the struggle.  Police went to Stumb’s home later that day to arrest him for assault, but found that he had abandoned the residence, having left a handwritten note that simply said, “I will bite again.” 

Indeed, less than a week later, the biting resumed.  These incidents typically took place late at night when a faculty member, administrator, or student was walking alone across campus.  Stumb, wearing a cape and mask, would approach the victim from behind, bite quickly, and flee.  

Between April 1932 and December 1935, 28 people were bitten, none seriously.  Stumb would always leave behind a reprint of one of his scholarly articles at the scene, upon which he had scrawled the message, “This alone should have earned me tenure.”

Professor Stumb, by then known as “BITEMAN,” was apprehended on December 4, 1935 when police tracked his footprints through the snow from the scene of a campus biting to a makeshift shelter on the banks of the nearby Susquehanna River.  A jury found him guilty of “disrespecting tenure and promotion decisions,” as well as non-consensual biting, and sentenced him to life in prison at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, where — ironically — he died from the bite of a rabid rat in 1969. 

Inspired by the BITEMAN trial, artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger created the comic-book character Batman in 1939.  At Stumb’s funeral 30 years later, Kane delivered the eulogy, noting that “in his own, peculiar way, Harold Stumb was a crusader for justice.  He sacrificed his freedom, and ultimately his life, on behalf of tenure-track faculty everywhere.”

In 2006, Stumb was granted tenure posthumously by Bucknell University, following a comprehensive investigation of his case by a committee of the American Association of University Professors.