Like a lot of professors in 2015, Columbia professor Joseph Howley had a problem with students “class shopping.”

Some would sign up for his class only to see if it was easy, then bail after the first session if it wasn’t. But only Howley thought to counter this quiet menace with something that could stop it: a cat-eating space alien who was expelled from Earth to face his inevitable death in 1990.

The assistant classics professor stuck a command for his students to send him a picture of Alf—the ’80s sitcom star and alien from the planet Melmac—into the middle of his syllabus to see if anybody noticed.

From the number of Alf images he received, he figured he’d be able to find out early on if he’d have enough students to keep the class engaged, or even to keep it going. And maybe, he thought, he’d teach them something along the way.

So did it work?

“Eight out of 20 have [responded] so far,” he said. “I don’t know what to make of that.”

Sounds like the Van Halen brown M&Ms test, which was there as a safety check to see if promoters had read the contract to ensure that the stadium had been properly configured for the band’s highly complex stage and light show, reconfigured to see if college students are paying attention.