Who Says Tenured Professors Don’t Care What People Think?
Good story in today’s Washington Post about Larry Sechrest, a libertarian academic in West Texas’ Sul Ross State University, who is proving wrong the old stereotype of the crusty, impossible-to-please tenured prof:
Atomized, loosely knit and fiercely individualistic, citizens here are not much given to consensus. Or they weren’t until Larry Sechrest came along and called them all a bunch of morons.
Sechrest, 56, is a jowly, acid-tongued economics professor at Sul Ross State University, an institution best known for producing schoolteachers and rodeo performers. The chain hotel manager has lived in the little town of Alpine for 13 years, more or less without incident. But it is not a gross overstatement to say that if an unpopularity contest were held here these days, he might give Saddam Hussein a run for his money.
In January, Sechrest published a 7,000-word article in Liberty, a tiny libertarian journal, titled “A Strange Little Town in Texas.” After dispensing with the things he likes about Alpine — great climate, clean air, awesome scenery, low crime rate, friendly locals, frontier spirit, robust theater scene — Sechrest came to his main point.
“The secret problem is that the students at Sul Ross, and more generally the long-term residents of the entire area, are appallingly ignorant, irrational, anti-intellectual, and, well . . . just plain stupid,” he wrote.
Harsh, yes, but Sechrest, a libertarian himself who grew up near Dallas, was just warming up. He dissed his students and neighbors as “some of the dumbest clods on the planet,” and his fellow faculty members as “mostly a waste of space.” As for the local schoolkids, many “are only a notch above retardation,” he said…
As Sechrest’s article made the rounds, he received a torrent of e-mail, some of it merely irate, some aggressively obscene. The local newspaper and radio station denounced him. Vitriolic callers phoned late into the evening. One night, someone smashed the windows of a car parked outside his home. Another night, eggs were hurled at his house.
There were two death threats, Sechrest said, both phoned in to his campus office. The callers said they would “get” him and kill him.
“Not polysyllabic,” Sechrest said. “But, you know, effective.”
Talk about making friends and influencing people!