He looks like any other college student, clad in jeans and an old military jacket. But as students pass him on the University of Maryland campus, they bow, tip their umbrellas and mutter "Good morning, Your Majesty" or "Hello, Your Highness." For this man is no mere student -- he's just been elected king.
Students at the College Park campus voted last week to discard the official title of Student Government Association president and put in place their first self-styled "king" of SGA, junior Thomas Cooper, who hails from Bowie.
While some students said the election of a monarch was an indication that few take the functions of student government seriously any more, others were quick to note that 10 percent of the campus voted, a record for a run-off election.
SGA's main function is to recommend how nearly $700,000 in student activity fees should be distributed to campus groups, but its decisions must be ratified by a variety of higher authorities.
Three other Monarchist Party candidates were also victorious in the runoff election, but it won't be entirely smooth sailing for the new monarch: The major opposing party, CLASS (Candidates Leading and Serving Students), held on to 20 of the 25 seats in the legislature.
Cooper, a 20-year-old English major, promised he would rule the 30,556 undergraduate students "with mercy and justice."
King Tom II, as he likes to be known, plans to stage a full coronation in place of the usual swearing-in ceremony next month.
"I will be crowned and I will knight members of the legislature, and a general air of pageantry will fill the campus," he vowed. "There will be a campuswide feast in honor of the new king." Details were unavailable.
Cooper campaigned on a promise to install a beer-filled moat around the campus, a major public works project that would have to be approved by a board of regents that is expected to be highly skeptical. The SGA potentate-elect thinks the moat would help keep out muggers and other thugs, the campus crime rate having been an issue for several years in SGA elections.
"Any criminal who is persistent enough to swim the moat will be either too drunk or too wet to commit the heinous crime he had intended," Cooper said.
The Monarchists Party, the campus' oldest political party, has been on campus for 13 years, but in recent times has been gaining support.
"We feel we can allocate funds as easily as anyone else but with more ceremony and color," said "Duke" Paul Croakin, who was swept into a seat in the legislature. "We just want to add a certain liveliness . . . .