- Loving U.: The Story of a Love Affair (and Some Lover’s Quarrels) with a University
Marshall Terry is a man who is in love with academic life, and Loving U. is a gentle billet-doux to Southern Methodist University and the fifty years that Terry spent in its English department. Terry has already published a fine history of SMU, From High on the Hilltop (SMU Press, 1993), but this is a more personal book.
Terry began his teaching career at SMU in the mid-1950s as a teaching assistant in English and a speechwriter for Willis Tate, who as president of SMU from 1954 to 1974 passionately defended the idea that a denominational university should be a free marketplace of ideas. Tate turned SMU from a small church school into a major university, and Terry was at his side during most of the process, helping to write the 1963 master plan that set SMU on its path to national prominence. In 1965 Terry joined the faculty as a full-time junior instructor. He retired in 2007 as [End Page 208] the E. A. Lilly Professor of English. During those forty-two years Terry was guided by Tate’s vision. This book is the story of the author’s triumphs and defeats as he defended the idea of a free university to both town and gown in one of the most conservative cities in the United States.
In a sense, this is an insular book, but that is not a flaw. Terry records long-forgotten faculty squabbles and disappointments, but he records most of them with wry humor. He brushed against some memorable characters during his career, including T. S. Eliot and John Gates (former editor of The Daily Worker), the notorious anti-Semite John O. Beaty and the baseball-loving Paschal Covici (both SMU faculty members), the forbidding Wallace Stegner and the affable A. C. Greene. He characterizes all of these, with the exception of Beaty, as “nice guys,” and he seems more bemused than angered by Beaty. Terry has the ability to see the sunny side of most people’s characters, and his book is written entirely without rancor.
Parts of Loving U. could be characterized as a secret history of SMU. Terry relates the inside story of several incidents, including the peculiar way in which several presidents were hired and fired and the unfolding of the “Death Penalty” football scandal in 1986. He also reveals the secrets of Martha Sumner University, the parody university-within-a-university created in the 1920s by a group of disaffected faculty members and still flourishing sixty years later.
As a young man, Terry was torn between a desire to teach and an urge to write fiction. He has managed to do both. Several chapters of this book are devoted to his first novel, Old Liberty (Viking Press, 1961), and to his subsequent Northway family books. There is also much material on the Dallas literary scene of the 1960s and 1970s and the Texas Institute of Letters, of which Terry became a member in 1968.
If Loving U. has a fault it is discursiveness, but it is discursive in the way that a conversation between two old gentlemen in leather chairs before a faculty club fireplace is discursive. The book will have a special appeal to anyone interested in the history of higher education in Texas or in Texas literature during the last half of twentieth century, and to anyone who would enjoy an affectionate portrait of a sometimes scrappy academic family.