Thursday, February 4, 2010

Roundhouse Roundup: Love Lust Memories

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
February 4, 2010

It already was obvious that it was going to be an interesting committee meeting. Three University of New Mexico regents were up for confirmation, with at least one of them — longtime political figure Jamie Koch — under fire from faculty and students, and with complaints in the news for months about the university being too politicized and about the administration being too top-heavy and overpaid.

But reporters at Monday's meeting of the Senate Rules Committee didn't really perk up their ears until the Senate president pro-tem started talking about anal sex.

It was a recent column in the university paper, The Daily Lobo, to which Sen. Tim Jennings referred. "I'm all for freedom of speech, but I don't think we need to have a letter in the student newspaper about how to do anal sex," Jennings drawled in the midst of a rambling and lengthy litany of complaints he had about UNM.

The column in question was written by 2007 Santa Fe High School grad Hunter Riley, who also worked on The New Mexican's teen page. Published last month, it provoked some controversy on campus and even got a little television coverage.

But it hasn't provoked a fraction of the uproar of an incident at UNM 41 years ago that Jennings mentioned next — the "Love-Lust" controversy.

The Days of '69: In March 1969, an English Department teaching assistant gave students in a freshman English class copies of a poem titled "Love-Lust Poem" by Lenore Kandel. As Ferrel Heady, president of UNM in 1969, recalled in his autobiography, "It dealt with a theme of sex in a variety of forms and was replete with four-letter Anglo-Saxon words."

Somehow a copy of the poem made it to the hands of then-state Sen. Harold Runnels, who headed the Legislative Finance Committee.

My former boss, Larry Calloway wrote about "Love-Lust" in a recent remembrance of the late Maralyn Budke on his blog .

Budke was director of the Legislative Finance Committee in 1969. Runnels called the committee into secret session. Wrote Calloway, "Members of the all-male committee expressed fear and loathing, some practically screaming, 'What if my own daughter saw this?' ... Before locking the doors, the committee told every woman to leave the room. Except Maralyn. 'That's when I knew I was one of the boys,' she told me, with a smile."

But "Love-Lust" didn't stay secret for long. As Heady said in a 2005 discussion of academic freedom in Mirage, a publication of the UNM Alumni Association, the reaction in the Legislature only led to more people reading the poem. "This was one of the biggest cases of hypocrisy I have ever encountered," Heady said. "Within the next few weeks, there were hundreds of copies of that poem being circulated everywhere. It was unsuitable for a freshman English class but it was suitable to be sent to people of all ages, anywhere, who wanted to read it."

I was a sophomore at Santa Fe Mid High at the time. I read a handwritten poem on a dog-eared sheet of notebook paper — not unlike the copy of the "real" lyrics of the song "Louie Louie" I'd seen a few years before. If anything, "Love-Lust" inspired me to keep up my grades, so I'd be sure to get accepted into UNM.

But the effect of the Legislature's ire was serious for UNM. It was as if "Love-Lust" became a symbol of everything conservative lawmakers hated about the turbulent '60s. Heady in Mirage recalled that lawmakers slashed $50,000 out of the university's budget to pay for a committee to investigate subversion and dirty words on state college campuses.

The "Love-Lust" affair was better to Runnels. As Jennings noted Monday, he rode the controversy to win a seat in Congress in 1970, where he stayed until his death in 1980.

Back to the Rules Committee: Jennings warned the UNM regents and other UNM folks at the meeting that something like the recent sex column in the Lobo could blow up. Though he said he found it offensive, Jennings didn't seem intent on waging a war over it.

Maybe the fact that the Lobo column didn't cause more screaming is a sign we've advanced as a society — or, depending on your point of view, that we've grown more decadent and immoral.

I suspect it's just that the economy and the budget situation is so dire, nobody has the inclination to get that upset about it.