I picked up this morning's Daily Lobo with a snarl of pride, as I saw the headline -- something about how Albuquerque's streets are unsafe for pedestrians -- and by the time the paper left the box, the snarl had become a gasp. There, in the right column, was news of Richard Berthold's impending retirement. "Berthold...RETIRING?!" I wheezed. I felt like I'd been kicked in the ribs with steel-toes, a sensation I admit to being intimately familiar with.

Richard Berthold, as some of you may be aware, is a history professor at the University of New Mexico. He nearly lost his job after the September 11 incident, since that morning he reportedly said to his 9:00am class, "...anyone who blows up the Pentagon has my vote." This statement was, of course, typical Berthold. For nearly thirty years, he'd been a smartass, comparing the politics of ancient Greece and Rome, to the politics of the modern-day western world, in an effort to keep the attention of his students, and to make a point about the flavour of the American government. Let me make it clear, I wholeheartedly support Berthold's flavour of smartassery.

For the last year and change, this brilliant wiseass has gotten endless amounts of crap, both from UNM's administration, and from various detractors around the nation, who, having nothing better to do with their saturday afternoons, decided to harass the man with the minority opinion. Growing weary of the self-righteous bullshit, the threats, and the media attention, Berthold has, at last, decided to withdraw from the public eye, and his professorship at the university. This morning's paper announced his intent to retire at the end of the semester.

This author is saddened by Berthold's decision, but having taken several retreats from the public eye, understands the necessity of the action. The university will be vastly depleted by the loss of his insightful sarcasm.


For more info on the man, the myth, the legend, try these:
  • http://www.dailylobo.com/news/336259.html (Berthold announces plans to retire after more than 30 years)
  • http://www.dailylobo.com/main.cfm?include=detail&storyid=270547 (Berthold recalls year, controversial statement)
  • http://www.dailylobo.com/main.cfm?include=detail&storyid=99578 (Professor sorry for Pentagon remark)

Shortly before Professor Berthold made his notorious remark about bombing the Pentagon, and it became fashionable to be patriotic, he wrote in the UNM newspaper, known to alumni like myself as the "Daily Lo-Blow":

I love this country. I love the personal freedom and incredibly comfortable material existence it affords me. But most of all, I love the values it stands for, even if my government and fellow citizens sometimes ignore them ...

At a time when people around the country were lining up to take pot-shots at the professor, and legislators were demanding his head and threatening to cut off University funding, a hydrology professor, Michael Campana, wrote a letter to the Albuquerque Journal defending Berthold's right to make an ass of himself. He wasn't the only one, but it meant more. Campana's sister, Ann Judge, died aboard American Airlines Flight 77 when it hit the Pentagon.


Update: Professor Berthold's decision to retire came shortly before announcement of yet another scandal inspired by a Berthold remark. This time, Berthold suggested in an e-mail to a colleague that a swimsuit calendar might be a good fund-raiser for UNM, specifically referring to a female professor who was at the time up for a tenure decision.

It is reported that Professor Berthold will be leaving UNM but still be teaching, giving the occasional lecture in a local tavern.


Sources:

Jim Belshaw, "Retiring UNM Prof, at the Very Least, Made Us Think" Albuquerque Journal, December 4 , 2002, at B1.

"Recapping Berthold is like having to explain why snow closes schools in New Mexico."

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