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As former Vice President of the University of Florida, USF president John Allen knew how the state functioned. His careful balancing act during the FLIC investigation saved USF from an ugly fate.  USF Photograph Collection.

In 1963, Johns Committee attorney Mark Hawes shared the committee's new report with the state Senate, calling USF immoral, anti-religious and a sanctuary for sexual deviants. In part, his impassioned two-hour tirade was meant to defend the committee's activities and request continued funding.

Allen then made a calm 25-minute rebuttal refuting the committee's report, saying it did not identify a single Communist on campus. On the teaching of communism, Allen said, “We do not like communism and we do not like cancer. But to understand and control cancer we take the cells into a laboratory to study them and learn all we can about them. The minister who is talking about sin is not trying to sell it.” Allen summed up academic freedom as follows: “A college is not engaged in making ideas safe for students. It is engaged in making students safe for ideas.” The senate gave Allen a standing ovation at the end of the speech. Although Allen's rebuttal was and is seen as a moral victory of sorts, the legislature still voted to continue funding FLIC's activities. Soon after the hearing, a journalist denounced the committee as a dying breed. “They are afraid of ideas,” he wrote. “They are saying to the young people, ‘We don't have faith in you. We need to hold you by the hand. We must protect your minds from the wicked professors.’”  

Not everyone thought Johns was a dying breed. Some knew demagoguery could still win elections. Gubernatorial candidate and Jacksonville Mayor Haydon Burns announced that he was "astounded at the number of pinks and Communists on the campuses of higher education in this state." Burns pledged to "get rid of them" and he became Florida's new governor after winning the vote in 1964. He proceeded to wreak havoc by meddling in Florida’s universities after his son performed poorly as a college student. As a result, Florida universities did away with semesters and operated on the extremely unpopular quarter system for over a decade.

Some administrators couldn't tolerate the situations they found themselves in. In 1967, a St. Petersburg Times editorial reflected on the recent resignation of the presidents of FSU and UF: "Outstanding teachers and scholars will not work -- indeed, cannot work -- where legislative committees intimidate faculties ... where governors crudely interfere with academic decisions or where university budgets are slashed for political reasons."

In the meantime, several of Florida’s leading newspapers examined FLIC’s methods and misdeeds more closely. A ten-part report on FLIC written by Mabel Chesley for the Daytona Beach Morning Journal was especially thorough, and is reproduced in our digital collections with permission.

Link: Newspaper series on FLIC by Mabel Chesley

Link: FLIC attorney Mark Hawes speaks to legislature

Link: USF President John Allen speaks to legislature