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A Look Back at People and Events in the News : Rebel Professor Says There's Life After Academia

September 03, 1987|BOB WILLIAMS

Is there life after El Camino? Robert A. Lee, the rebel sociology professor who was ousted from the community college last September after 16 years of tweaking Establishment noses, says there is.

And a wonderful and exciting life it is, the ex-professor wants his critics to know. The college, which alleged that Lee was unfit to teach, gave him $40,000 to exit quietly and so, for the past year, he's been enjoying what amounts to a paid sabbatical.

"I was glad to get away from El Camino," said Lee, who once attracted attention by advocating free love, legalizing hard drugs, incest and the liberal use of obscenities in his classes. "The students were getting conservative and I was getting bored. It was time to skip off and do something else."

The big event so far has been a trip to Europe, where, he said, he slept in $175 hotel rooms or in telephone booths. "That's me!" he said, offering the contrasting images as an insight into his life.

While overseas, Lee said, he sought out some of Europe's greatest thinkers so that he could compare ideas with them. "I'm so brilliant I have to go over there to find someone who can understand me," he said, laughing. Lee constantly smiles and laughs while talking, a conversational tactic that tends to soften outrageous statements and leave a listener wondering whether he really believes what he is saying.

At the University of Utrecht in Holland, he said, he asked a world-famous physicist about "Lee's Theory of Quantum Motion." The theory holds that the motion of an object is not continuous but a series of tiny, incredibly quick steps, like watching motion with a strobe light. Lee said it shoots down Enstein's theory of relativity and several of Sir Isaac Newton's favorite notions.

Lee said he posed seven questions about the theory, and the physicist responded to each with a cryptic "no."

"He seemed puzzled that a sociologist was talking to him about theoretical physics," Lee said, laughing.

Back in Pomona, where he has lived since being fired from El Camino, Lee cranks out papers on various issues, from the mundane to the cosmic, and sends copies to newspapers and public figures. He said his ideas almost always show up in editorial columns or speeches, but nobody gives him any credit.

Lee, who keeps in touch with a few of his former El Camino colleagues and students, says he has no regrets about his teaching career. "I left my own intellectual heritage," he said. "I taught my students to be critical of all knowledge--anything that people tell them--because that's the only way they can learn how to think for themselves."

The El Camino money is running out, Lee said, and he may soon have to do something really radical, like finding an 8-to-5 job. But he's not worried about what comes next. "I've always been a man of destiny," he said. "What I'm supposed to do next will show up, and I know it will be dramatic, filled with suspense and excitement. All I've got to do is hang in there until it happens."

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