An April Fool's joke taken too far
(Teacher/Professor): Hey it would be an awsome April Fool's joke if we got them (students) to write 5000-15000 words on something completely pointless and make it worth half of their end result!
Other teacher/professor: yeah! omg that would be amazing let's call it a DISSERTATION...that'll get 'em
Then before you know it it becomes a compulsory aspect of your grade/degree
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