Interviewee: Phyllis Coleman
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: March 12, 2003
P: This is Julian Pleasants, March 12, 2003. I am with Phyllis Coleman in Fort
Lauderdale. Where are you originally from?
C: I was born in New York, but I grew up in south Florida.
P: Where in south Florida?
P: Why did you choose to attend the University of Florida?
C: It was a good school, and lots of people I knew were going there.
P: Was the journalism program a factor at all?
C: Actually, I went with the idea I was going to be a doctor, so the answer,
unfortunately, is no.
P: When did you first arrive on campus?
C: In 1966.
P: And your major was?
P: And then you switched to?
P: So, you were, for at least two years, a journalism major, right?
P: Why did you choose journalism?
C: I like writing, and I took a course that made me think, "You know what, this is
P: Did you have anybody who may have influenced you, either your parents or a
high school teacher or anybody who may have steered you toward journalism?
C: Not really. It was just something I decided I liked. I was always good in English
and liked writing, [and] I like reading.
P: When you decided to be a journalism major, what did your parents think?
C: They thought that was fine.
P: When did you first get interested in working at the Alligator?
C: I was interested probably a year after I got there, but I was a little chicken. It is
funny because I got to the door of the Alligator, turned around and went away. I
was afraid. I didn't have that self-confidence. But then I came back. I started
working there in 1968 or 1969.
P: So, the first time you went by would have been 1967?
P: And what were your trepidations at that point?
C: The Alligator seemed so wonderful and so special, and I thought I don't really
have that much to offer. I was scared.
P: Do you think in a period of time you matured both as a student and as a person
and felt more comfortable?
C: Yes. It was just like, "You know what, I want to do this and I'm going to do it and
what's the worst that happens. I mean, I am going to try it."
P: So, how long overall did you work at the paper?
C: I was probably there from 1968 to 1972, in a variety of different roles.
P: Who hired you when you first came on to the paper?
C: Probably the person I talked with and I got friendly with was Harvey Alper. Have
you talked to Harvey?
P: No. Who is Harvey Alper?
C: I think Harvey was managing editor. He is a lawyer now in Altamonte Springs. He
was influential in my career there.
P: Was Raul Ramirez the editor when you started?
C: No. Raul was the editor for part of the time I was there. I can't quite recall who
the editor was when I started.
P: What did you have to go through to be "hired" on the Alligator? Did you just have
an interview? Did you have to submit a writing sample?
C: Yes, I had an interview, and they then gave me some stories, and I started doing
some stories. I really liked it. It was really a lot of fun.
P: So, when you did the initial stories, they would proof them and determine if you
C: Right, and the excitement of, you know, the next morning going to the box and
getting the paper and seeing if your story was there. Then, the first time I actually
had a story in print, the first time I had a byline, the first time I made the front
page, all of it was very exciting.
P: What other responses did you have to the first byline story you had printed?
C: I was so excited. I called my dad and told him. Of course, I sent it home. I still
have the scrapbooks of stuff I have written.
P: Part of it is the sense of public accomplishment. In other words, you have done
something that everybody else reads. It is not just like writing a term paper.
C: Right, and it seems so important. Even the most minor story gets more important
when it is in print.
P: During the time you were at the Alligator, was there a faculty member or an
administrator who served as an advisor?
C: Yes. First of all, Ed [Barber] was there during the time I was there. We had Mr.
[Brent] Myking, what a special person he was, who was the head of student
P: What was his name?
C: Brent Myking. He passed away about three years ago. He was very special. You
know, there were so many people who were so special who worked on the
Alligator during the time I was there. Ed, of course, is one of them. But we had an
advisor, a faculty advisor, Mr. [Alan] Whiteleather, for part of the time. There
were staff members who were full-time staff people, and then we had this faculty
person, and then we had student editors and students just running around loose.
P: What exactly did the faculty advisor do if there were a First Amendment issue or
if there was some conflict with the Board of Publications? Would he advise you or
C: Yes, sort of. It is hard for me to remember exactly. He was there for only part of
the time I was there. Ed and Mr. Myking were much more influential in what we
P: So, if the editor had a problem, he would probably be likely to go to Ed Barber.
C: To Ed Barber or Mr. Myking, yes. Then we had a full-time production person,
Mr. [Richard] French. He was great, too. Although, when we get to my special
parts of the story, I will tell you some of the conflict we had with him, too. But if
you had any kind of production problems, he was the person to go to.
P: How did you get along with the career staff, the non-students.
C: I got along with them great, and I think most people did.
P: Occasionally, there must have been some conflicts.
C: There were conflicts, yes, and during the really heated problems with the student
unrest, as we like to say, I did have some problems with Mr. French and some of
the other staff because we thought we knew what we were doing and we wanted
to do it our way. They knew the university had some liability for what we were
doing and they wanted to do it their way.
P: Exactly what, during your time, was the Board of Student Publications, and what
was the relationship between that board and the Alligator staff, the student staff?
C: They were the people who selected the editors, and so they had a big part in
deciding who was running the paper. We did have a major conflict during the
time, early on in my career, when they chose...
P: This is with Hugh Cunningham?
P: I want to talk about that in some detail.
C: Okay, save that.
P: Who chose the Board of Student Publications? How were they selected? Did the
President of the university pick them?
C: I don't know. Ed should know that.
P: What was the Faculty-Student Committee on Student Publications? That may
have come at a later time.
C: Yes, I don't know anything about that. If I do, I don't remember it.
P: One of the things we can get into in sort of a generic sense, did you feel then or
even later that there were some conflicts among the student staff, i.e. editor,
managing editor, reporters?
C: Among all of us, you mean?
P: Yes. Did you resolve a lot of that internally? Obviously, there have to be
P: But I wonder how many were really crucial issues, real conflicts.
C: There were some. When I first started, of course, I was out of the loop, and so I
didn't even know that stuff was going on. There were some conflicts that arose
as a result of relationships between people on the Alligator and people in student
government because we were very close. It was, you know, you were in bed, as
it were, with the wrong [politico], you know.
P: You mean politics?
C: Politics, and was that influencing the editorial policy of the Alligator because we
were too close and too friendly with some of the people from student
P: So, for example, Steven J. Uhfelder was president of the student body, and his
views on race relations and other issues coincided with yours. The question was,
was he determining your editorial policy?
C: Exactly. There was a time, and this is sort of personal, I was dating somebody
from student government, and one of the editors came [to me]. And I [felt] like I
am so unimportant in this event, and it really doesn't matter who I am dating. But
it was a problem, and it was also a problem for him because the student
government people were saying, "You know, you have to...." But when you're
twenty, things like that...
P: None of that matters.
C: Lust is a wonderful thing.
P: What about conflicts with Florida Blue Key, which at that time was a lot more
powerful than it is now.
C: Yes, and of course it was all male, so that was another issue. Yes, there were
those political kinds of questions. I think the Alligator and student government
were sort of a microcosm of the world because you had that kind of conflict in
real journalism in the world and with politicians.
P: Were there any conflicts between the Alligator editorial staff and any alumni? I
am sure on occasion the alumni would not have liked your editorial comments on
C: Right. We did sometimes get letters and stuff like that, and as long as they were
signed and we thought that they were valuable, we would publish them. When I
was an editor, when I was in a position to know about stuff like that, the pressure
I got was not from alums. The pressure I got was from the president of the
university, Stephen O'Connell [1963-1973]. Talk about smooth politicians, that
man. You would go in there [to his office] and you knew exactly what you wanted
to say, and you knew exactly what you wanted. You walked out and you didn't
realize you got nothing, you know, until you were out and you went, "Wait a
minute, do I still have all my fingers?"
P: It sounded good.
C: It sounded good, and he made you feel...
P: Like he was listening to you.
C: Like he was listening, and like, "Yes, very valuable," and you got nothing.
P: While we are on the subject, did you encounter any intimidation, influence, from
either state politicians or local politicians?
C: There were people who tried to influence us, but mostly, for me, it was the
university, while I was even a staffer. Again, it was part of my own naivete and
not understanding what exactly I had. I did a series of stories about the loyalty
oath. The dean of the law school said something to me because it was a law
professor who was at issue. He said some things to me that now, in retrospect,
now knowing something about the law, I know he never should have said. But it
sounded good. They were good quotes, and so I published them, and he was
horrified to see it. You know how things look different when they are in print. So,
there was a lot of pressure on that. But most of the pressure I got was from within
P: What about journalism professors? Would they try to either influence or help you
with editorials or corrections?
C: I think they were helpful. I'll tell you, Buddy Davis, I'm sure you've heard Buddy
Davis stories already, in editorial writing, he taught us so much. He had a way.
He would do these... have you heard about the tapes? You would go into the
library, and you would listen to the tape of what he thought of your editorial. You
would be scared to go listen. We had this feeling he had this extra power, he
was an ET [extraterrestrial]. At the end of one tape, luckily, it wasn't mine, but it
was a friend of mine, he said something like it was so awful and this tape will
self-destruct, and the tape broke. The student was just convinced that somehow
he had done it. Or you would hear him, "You know what I think of your editorial?"
And you'd hear him ripping, the sound of ripping paper. It was like, "Oh, my gosh,
this is awful." But he taught me an awful lot. He really did.
P: Everybody I have talked to, Carl Hiaason, people who are great writers, all were
terrified of Buddy, and everybody said he didn't put up with any mistakes. If you
made one or two errors...
C: That was it.
P: One person said he was a little hard without very much praise, that maybe it
would have been better if, when you did do well, he would have acknowledged it.
C: You know, there were a couple of times when he liked something that I did, and,
boy, it made me feel like I had just won the Nobel Prize, or the Pulitzer or
something, some serious prize. He did motivate us. I learned a lot from Hugh
Cunningham, too, although that whole incident with the Alligator, I had some
problems with him, but he was also an excellent professor.
P: What other professors had an impact on your career?
C: Jon Roosenraad, who is still there. That was the first course I took in journalism,
and I loved it. I thought he was fabulous. And Joanne Smith, who was teaching
law of the press, is the reason I am a lawyer. She was fabulous. I took that
course, and I thought, "This is really interesting and I really like this."
P: Do you feel like in the journalism profession you need to have a journalism
C: I guess part of the problem with asking me that question is that my career in
journalism was fairly short. It certainly helped me, and the money that I give to
the university I give to the journalism school and to the Alligator. Intermittently, I
give to the law school, if something happens that I thought was particularly
interesting, but my loyalties are to journalism. I have an education degree, too,
which I have given them nothing but tuition, and they gave me nothing in return.
So, I have very good feelings about it, but I believe that I learned a lot more at
the Alligator even than I did in journalism, although I learned a lot in journalism
P: Why don't more journalism students work for the Alligator?
C: That is an interesting question. I think it is that first trepidation I felt, you know, it's
so big, it's so special, you know, am I good enough, and then I guess that there
are a lot of kids who are kids, and they want to be kids when they get to school
and they don't want to work.
P: It's very time consuming.
C: Yes, but, boy, it was fabulous.
P: It would seem to me, if you want to be in journalism, that the Alligator is the best
practical access you would have to the craft.
C: And it is not like when, before in that interim period, I tried to go, and I then I
forced myself to do it, I was living in those tower dorms...
P: Beatty Towers?
C: Yes, horrible, but I created a dorm newspaper, the Towerscope, we called it,
with the little mimeograph machine with the purple stuff, you know? I am so old.
So, yes, it seems like if that's what you want to do, that's what you should want to
do. The Towerscope, as silly as it was, gave me some opportunity, but the
Alligator, it was the New York Times, and do you think you could work for the
New York Times?
P: When you first got to be editor and you had a problem, who would you turn to
other than, say, Ed Barber?
C: Either Ed or Mr. Myking.
P: You didn't necessarily consult Buddy Davis about writing an editorial?
C: No. I was comfortable with Ed and with Mr. Myking. There were times when I was
in Buddy Davis's class, but they were sort of more distant.
P: I have talked to some editorial writers, including Buddy, and one of the things that
he drummed into all of his students was that if you write an editorial, you have to
have an opinion. That is what editorials are about.
P: And if you don't get any response, it is not a very good editorial.
P: Did that in any way influence you?
C: Yes. There were so many things that he taught us about short and simple
sentences. Make your point. Make it and go on. I still do that, even in legal writing
which is somewhat different. But I try to use some of the things that he taught
me. So, he really made an impact in the way that I thought. I am an opinionated
person anyway, so that wasn't a difficult one [laughing].
P: Did you ever have any confidential sources when you were working on the
C: Yes, I did, and you try to keep them. I never got into the situation where I had to
go to jail to do that.
P: Would you have?
C: I would like to think I would, but, you know.
P: It is a little harder as a university student to be willing to make that kind of
P: If you are a professional journalist for the New York Times, they will give you
legal support. It is a little easier, anyway.
C: Right. As I said, you would hope that you would do what you think is the right
thing, and I think it is the right thing.
P: What is your view of the First Amendment, the freedom of the press?
C: Now, there is a big question. I'm for it.
P: Primarily in the context of your time at the Alligator, what were your views about it
C: As a lawyer now, I know that nothing is absolute. As a student and as editor of
the Alligator, I thought it was absolute. As a lawyer, I now know that nobody but
Justice [Hugo] Black agreed with that, but I think it is very important, and I think
we learned that. It is sort of bigger than life. Of course, when you are twenty,
everything is bigger than life. So, you feel that you are doing something that is so
large and that you are protecting something that is so important.
P: It is almost an ideological stance. You are thinking in broad terms, not in practical
P: How would you assess the importance of New York Times v. Sullivan in terms of
First Amendment rights?
C: You watch the Court swings, and sometimes it's, "We're on the side of the
plaintiff," the allegedly defamed person, and sometimes we swing back and we're
protecting the press. I think it is very important that we make sure that people get
the information, and if sometimes somebody has got to get hurt as a result of
that, I think that is very unfortunate. However, that is the price of freedom of the
press, and I think it is a price I'm willing to pay. Luckily, I've never been in the
position where I'm the one who is really paying it. I must say, as a person who is
sometimes called by reporters for quotes about whatever I am teaching, I am
reluctant to talk. I have been burned by quotes taken out of context. You look at it
and you go, "How could you possibly think I would have said that?"
P: Sometimes it is almost the exact opposite of what you said, which is a little scary.
C: Sometimes it is the same thing when I read student exams. It is like, "Okay, you
could not possibly have been in my class and think that. And, forget even if you
were in the class, if you just sat down for five seconds and reread that, you would
realize it makes no sense." We are having a symposium on all this Enron stuff,
and it just happens that we had a speaker from Merrill Lynch. A reporter from the
Miami Herald was here for a long time, and she sat and listened to the same
speaker, and she got it exactly, just like you said, absolutely upside down,
exactly opposite to what the woman had said. And if you just thought about it,
because, as I said, she is with Merrill Lynch, and what it [the newspaper article]
actually said was that the attorney general didn't jump on Merrill Lynch quickly
enough and he should have taken us to task earlier. Now, why would somebody
in Merrill Lynch say that? Even if you thought she said that, when you read it, you
should have said, "You know what, I better check that." So, you have those
problems with reporters who just, I don't know, they are not careful, they are on
deadline. I don't know what the story is.
P: What was the case when you were the editor? Did you have time to check
reporters' stories and deal with corrections of grammar or misspellings?
C: Sometimes we did, and sometimes we didn't. When I was doing these loyalty
oath stories, the Supreme Court of the United States came out with the case, and
it was late, say nine o'clock, and at twelve o'clock we were sending the paper
down to Ocala, which is where it was being printed at the time. I mean, I had to
write that story right then, and nobody had time to do anything. It was like,
whatever, we have got to do it. There were times like that. There were times
during the sit-in times, too, where we were working continuously and hoping we
were getting it right. Then there were other stories, obviously, where you had
more time and you can check.
P: Did you think you were generally accurate?
C: Yes. I think we really, really tried, and, I think for the most part, we were generally
accurate. I think that is probably true of most people. Yes, they take quotes out of
context sometimes and, yes, they get it a little bit wrong, but I think most of the
time, people get it mostly right.
P: I am intrigued, reading both the Alligator and the Gainesville Sun, with the
incredible number of grammatical errors and typos that appear throughout the
newspapers. The misspelling of names, incorrect grammar. Has it gotten worse?
C: I think the answer to that is yes, and I think it from reading the newspaper and
from reading my student papers. Some of the things they don't know. But, you
say to them, "Don't end a sentence with a preposition, or this prepositional
phrase, you shouldn't use." And, "What's a preposition," [they ask.] So, if you
can't get to what's a preposition, how do you get that right?
P: Is that part of the educational system that it is just not effective?
C: I think so, and I wonder, I know we have an education president and we have an
education governor, but in the twenty years that I've been teaching, it has gotten
worse. So, I don't know. Is it Florida? Is Florida worse than other places? We
certainly don't devote enough money to education. Children don't vote, so they're
not that interested. But grammar is definitely a lost art. People are just not that
P: When you worked for the Alligator, were you paid for any of your work?
P: How much and by whom?
C: By the university. I started as a reporter for nothing, volunteering, and I worked
my way up to $10 a week. When I was editor...
P: Now, was this when you were managing editor? How much did you get paid
C: When I was managing editor it was like $40 a week, and when I was editor it was
$50 a week. It was actually real money to me at the time.
P: At that time it was not too bad.
C: Right. The $10 a week, it was nice, but by the time I was editor, yes, it was real
P: Did you ever get any journalism credit for working on the Alligator?
P: When you first started as a writer, how did you decide what you wanted to cover,
or were you assigned things?
C: We were assigned stuff.
P: At what point were you in a position to say, "I want to cover this, I want to cover
the sit-ins, I want to cover these other issues?"
C: I think that as soon as I got enough guts to say, "Well, I would like to do a story
about X," they were pretty flexible. We had somebody who was called an
assignments editor, and that person would hand out assignments. But if you
thought of something else on your own and you wanted to do that, that was okay
unless it was something somebody else was [working on], like it was one of the
plum assignments and somebody else had it. Once I worked my way up and
became managing editor and then editor, I could do basically whatever I wanted.
You just didn't have that much time to do that many stories. I really got to where,
and in fact, when I was working in journalism, what I really liked even better than
writing was doing editing. I liked layout and I liked the visual part. I am not at all
artistic. I have no creative... nothing. But that was my creativity, how it looked on
the page and designing it.
P: Those were your responsibilities as managing editor?
C: As managing editor, and of course it was also some of the financial stuff, which I
am not very good at, so I don't know how I got that job. That was a mistake.
P: What else did you do as managing editor? You had some financial decisions, I
P: But you did do layout as well and a certain amount of editing?
C: Yes, I did some of that. Also, I did copyediting before that and was on the
copyediting desk. Then we had somebody who was in charge and doing the
P: In essence, you really got a good taste of everything because you were a
reporter, you did copyediting, you were managing editor, and you were editor.
C: That's right, and I also did production for awhile. I really liked that, too. Then, for
awhile, I was working toward a master's degree in journalism, which I never
completed because I got married instead, that was another mistake, to a
business manager, as a matter of fact.
P: Were there were some romances between members of the Alligator staff?
P: And some of them did culminate in marriage?
C: Yes, and divorce.
P: Were there any others that you know about?
C: I am sure there were. I know in public relations, two of those people got married
to each other. Yes, there were romantic [pairings]. Who else do I know about
who met their spouses on the Alligator? I will have to think about that.
P: Did you have anything to do with selling ads?
C: No. That was something I did not do.
P: During the time that you were editor, did you have any special issues or extras?
C: We did do some special stuff during the sit-in stuff, and then, at the end of the
summer, we did that big incoming issue, which I assume they are still doing.
C: And four-color. That was a lot of fun.
P: Where were your offices during this time?
C: In the Reitz Union.
P: Would you describe what they were like?
C: The first time I went, it was in the basement, and it was not very spiffy. When we
moved into the Reitz Union, it was pretty spiffy for what we were. We had a large
newsroom. There was a glassed-in editor's office. The managing editor had a
space by himself or herself outside the editor's office. Then, over on the side, we
had the copyediting desk. We had a ton of typewriters, manuals. I love those old
manual typewriters. Then we had the production area in the back, a big, big
production area. It was already cold type. Then we had the professional staff. Mr.
Myking had an office. Ed had an office. Then, down the hall, we had the
yearbook. They were part of student publications, as well.
P: Which then was called the Seminole.
C: It doesn't make any sense, right? And then there was a public relations part, too.
So, we had a big suite of offices.
P: How many people would you say, in terms of student staff, would there have
C: Only on the Alligator? Probably, with all the people who just floated in and out,
some people who were just doing a story a week or something like that, wow, I
bet there were fifty or sixty people. There were a lot of students, a lot of us
P: What was the atmosphere like? Was it like a typical newsroom and people
talking on the phones and talking to each other and very busy and running
C: Yes, and it was exciting. It was like you were in a movie.
P: And how often were you publishing at this time?
C: We published every weekday. In the summer, we published twice a week.
P: What time would you put the paper to bed?
C: About midnight.
P: It was printed, you said, in Ocala?
C: In Ocala.
P: Did you do pre-press, as well?
C: We did. They made the negatives, and they trucked them down to Ocala. Several
times I went down to the press and watched them roll it.
P: Reporters have talked about that as being the most exciting part of the business,
to see what you have done come out in print.
C: To actually see it. Yes, it was very exciting. At one point, people were stealing
the papers. Then there was some story we were worried about it, I can't
remember what it was, that they would steal the papers. So I actually went down
with the paper and came back with it and watched them put them in the little
orange boxes. It was exciting.
P: When you were there, did the newspaper or any members of the paper win any
awards? I know the journalism school was doing quite well during that time.
P: The journalism school won several Hearst Awards.
P: When you look back on your experience with the Alligator, and other than your
husband, did you make a lot of really close friends whom you've kept up with
over the years?
C: There are a couple that I still keep up with, but not that many.
P: When you all socialized, if you partied, would you do it separately or would the
Alligator staff do it together?
C: There were times that we did it as groups and as subgroups. Also, I was very
close with and also socialized with the people from student government, too. So,
that really was sort of a larger group of the group, and then we had little
P: When you finished your time at the Alligator, what was your immediate goal as
you graduated from the University of Florida? What did you want to do with your
journalism degree and your Alligator experience?
C: As I said, from Ms. Smith I had decided I wanted to go to law school, and I had
been admitted to law school, and then I got married instead. So, we went to
Atlanta, and I went to work for a newspaper, and that was great.
P: Which paper?
C: The Gwinnett Daily News. It was a small paper. They had never hired a woman
for the newsroom before. They were horrified that they had done it.
P: Back in those days, Gwinnett was out in the rural part of Georgia, unlike today.
C: Right, and they couldn't believe they had done it. Now, subsequently I found out,
this is very tacky on their part, that they hired me because they needed
somebody right away. They had hired somebody for the job they gave me, but he
couldn't be there for three weeks, and they needed somebody right away, and I
had said I could start that afternoon. So, they figured, "Okay, we will hire her and
when the guy shows up, we will just get rid of her." But when the guy showed up,
they got rid of him. But I started doing obituaries and, you know, "Mrs. Mercedes'
cat had kittens." I thought, this had got to go. But it was a lot of fun.
P: So, you came back and got a master's in education?
C: Yes, I came back. My ex-husband, last person drafted in the country, he wanted
to move back to Gainesville, so we moved back to Gainesville. I got a master's in
education, and then we ultimately both went back to law school.
P: I am not clear about the dates, but when you were either in graduate school in
education or in law school, you were a member of the Board of Directors of
Campus Communications. Is that right?
P: What exactly did that entail? What were your responsibilities?
C: We talked about policy kinds of things for the campus communications, all of
P: So, that included the Seminole as well as the Alligator.
P: Did you feel like your views were accepted and listened to on that board?
P: Were there many women on that board?
P: Were you the first?
C: That I don't know.
P: Once you finished law school, how had your experience in journalism and at the
Alligator influenced both your life in general and your legal career?
C: When people ask me, they say they would like to go to law school or they tell me
their children would like to go to law school, what should they do in
undergraduate school, I tell them they should get a journalism degree. I think it is
the best degree you can get, the best training you can get, to be a lawyer
because lawyers need to be able to take a group of facts, deal with them quickly,
[and] write something about it. It really helped me a lot in law school. It helped
me learn to deal with people. The experience I had at the Alligator helped me in
interviewing people, in meeting people who I may never see again, but in that
few minutes [where] you have to connect with somebody. And I did meet my ex-
husband there. It gave me confidence. I remember when I first was selected
editor, when the Board chose me as editor, and I was walking along the campus
and it was like I felt like everybody should have [been told], "Look, I'm the
Alligator editor." It was so life-affirming, for want of a better term. So, it has really
influenced me a lot in who I became. I think it was very positive.
P: When you started, did you have the long-term objective of being editor?
C: I don't think I was that confident when I started, but as I saw things I wanted to
do, I thought, "I could do that." As I said, I am sort of opinionated, and it was like,
"I know a way to do that which is better and I would like to try." I love writing
opinion type pieces, so I really enjoyed writing those editorials.
P: Let me go through and talk about some of your stories and sort of begin when
you were starting out as editor. One of the earlier stories that we found that you
did was a story on the increasing number of traffic tickets. Do you remember
writing about that at all?
C: Very vaguely.
P: And I can assure you that nothing has changed. [laughing] There are fewer
parking places, more people, more tickets.
P: But at that time I don't recall that was a particularly big issue on campus, was it,
C: Well, we weren't supposed to have cars as students. We couldn't have cars until
we were juniors, I think. I remember one of the big stories I did and that I was
really upset about their trying to keep me from doing. Talk about the First
Amendment. Do you remember John Reaves?
P: The football quarterback?
C: Yes. I got wind of, don't ask me how, I had seen him driving around and he had a
car. He wasn't supposed to have a car because he wasn't a junior, and he also
didn't have the money to have a car, of course, and so I tracked it down and
found out it was a [football] booster's car, and I confronted him. You see how big
I am, and you know how big football players are. He was this big guy, and it was
outside the dorm there for the athletes, and he was really mad because I had
been following him and watched him take the car under the stadium, which is
where they had been parking. I had the title. I had really done the work. That was
before I was that interested in sports, so I didn't get it that the university could be
in big trouble that this kid had a car from the boosters. I wanted to write this story,
and I thought, "Wow, I've got this expose." They wouldn't let me write it.
P: Who was they?
C: The editors, actually the sports guys, and they were frantic.
P: Do you think Ray Graves [head football coach, University of Florida, 1961-1969]
or anybody put pressure on them?
C: I wouldn't be surprised. Of course, Ray Graves's daughter, Beth, at the time was
working on the Seminole, and so he was sort of influential.
P: That story should've been printed.
C: Exactly. Eventually, I was allowed to do this little tiny thing that should have been
like one of those little corrections that nobody really saw that he was driving a car
on campus. Clearly, it was a violation of the NCAA rules.
P: And university rules.
C: And university rules.
P: I have learned over the years that it is very dangerous to take on athletics at the
University of Florida. It doesn't matter whether you are an administrator, faculty,
or Alligator writer. There are a lot of "powerful" people who do not want an
C: Right, and I was told no. I couldn't understand it. Now, teaching sports law, I
know what I had and what the effect could have been. But at the time, I thought
this is a really good story and I don't understand why we're not splashing it all
over the front page. But, yes, you're right.
P: In fact, it probably would've been nationwide news.
C: Right, and it should've been. He shouldn't have had that car.
P: That's a clear violation.
C: It was a problem. The sports editor was [saying] no, you can't, and as I said, at
that time I had just started [as a reporter].
[End side Al]
P: One of your early stories had to do with the honor system, and the students
actually voted 2 tol to keep the honor system as it was. The way the honor
system was then, if you saw somebody else cheating, you were honor bound to
turn them in. But in my experience, that has never been the case. Did you find
out that this was an unfair standard, or did students just pay no attention to it?
What was the attitude?
C: Students don't pay attention to that. We have that same kind of a rule here, and
the students don't do it either. As a member of the Bar, we have an obligation like
that, and lawyers don't do it either. You try to convince the students that they are
going to be lawyers and they need to do that. So, even where the profession
itself says you have that obligation, the students don't do it, and so I don't think
they were doing it at Florida either.
P: In that case, should the honor system have been eliminated?
C: It seems to me, and this is one of my pet peeves, if you have a rule, you need to
enforce it; if you don't enforce it, you need to get rid of the rule because it makes
a mockery of it and then people don't believe in any of the rules, if you didn't
enforce that rule. I have this all the time with my students, "Well, other people
don't make it." [I say, ] "Well, you know what, you have the misfortune to have
run into somebody who is going to do what she said, and I'm really sorry for you."
[They say,] "Well, that's not fair."
P: Situational ethics, I presume.
P: Another story that would be interesting to current students is that a lot of the
resident advisors in the dorms wanted to do away with curfew, and it applied only
to women. I can't remember what it was, but it was like 11:00 on week nights and
1:00 on the weekends.
C: That sounds about right.
P: How strictly was that enforced?
C: I think it really depended on where you were and what your R. A. [resident
advisor] was like and how interested they were, but we took it seriously. I took it
seriously, but I am a rules-oriented person.
P: Do you recall when that was finally eliminated. Obviously, it seemed very unfair
to have one rule for women and another rule for men.
C: Right. No, I really don't.
P: It continued probably until after you had left school.
C: Yes. It was certainly after I left the dorms.
P: Let's talk about a story you mentioned earlier. When I first arrived in 1969, all
faculty had to sign a loyalty oath. There were several people, primarily one or two
in the law school, who refused to sign that oath as unconstitutional. You did a
series of stories about that. At one point, people were going to be fired and
President O'Connell said, "If you don't sign you don't get paid." What was the
student perspective on this loyalty oath. How did you see that oath?
C: I didn't know what I know now about [something being] unconstitutional, but I
thought it was wrong. We had to sign it, too, because we were employees of the
P: That's right. You did. All employees had to sign it. Otherwise, you couldn't get
C: Otherwise, we couldn't get paid. So, it was problematic, but we signed it, sad to
say. You asked me, "Would I have gone to jail to protect my source," and I said I
hoped I would have done the right thing. Well, I didn't do the right thing there.
P: Eventually, four people were fired, three faculty members and one worker. What
was your reaction? I believe you wrote an article about that. Did you think that
C: Yes. I thought it was unfair. Ultimately, the case that went to the Supreme
P: The petitioner was a UF law professor. Eventually, he prevailed.
C: That's right. Now by that time, he was already a full professor somewhere else.
All the university said was, "Okay, what we have to do is give you what you
would have had back to you. You were an assistant professor, untenured." Well,
obviously, he didn't want that. I thought that was pretty bad faith on the part of
P: Actually, as I recall, he didn't get very much of a monetary settlement.
C: No, and that's what they were saying, "All we really need to do is put you back
where you were." And he was a tenured, full professor wherever he was then.
So, he could come back and be an assistant professor at the law school. That
P: If students are reading the Alligator, and one assumes that they read the Alligator
fairly regularly during that time, would they have been interested in a story like
C: That's an interesting question that until you started to ask it I hadn't even thought
about. We were more politicized. It was the sixties. So, I think as a student body
we were probably more interested than today's students would be.
P: Although this issue wouldn't affect 95 percent of the students.
C: No, but I think as a more political group we were probably more interested. But
probably most students weren't interested in that. I was just because it was, to
me, interesting and it was a story, but, yes, you are probably right.
P: Did you get much feedback from faculty members? We talked about the law
C: The dean, yes. He was frantic, yes.
P: But from other students or other faculty?
C: Not really, no. Now, as I said, because it was a story that a lot of it was on
deadline and so it was exciting to me, that part. And the law school, that dean,
ultimately, was asked to leave, and I think a lot of it was the fallout from that
P: Well, they almost were kicked out of the American Association of Law Schools
because of it.
C: Right, and they should have been.
P: I think that's part of what the dean was concerned about at that point.
P: Because the publicity was horrible. Do you think you had something to do with
that? I know the Gainesville Sun was publishing stories. In fact, it was a national
issue as well.
C: Right. I think the Alligator did, and some of the stories I wrote of things he [the
law dean] said. He just wasn't very...
C: That's a good word. That's better than the one I was thinking.
P: I was there when you reported on the psychic Jeanne Dixon who came to do a
C: Did you see my picture in there? That was my only photograph, the one with the
sign over her head.
P: Yes, your picture is in here, as a matter of fact. The sign that as she started
C: It came down...
P: And it said, "Bullshit," and the place went nuts. People were in hysterics. Did you
ever find out who did it?
P: You have to admire somebody for organizing that because it was a big banner.
C: Yes, and the timing was perfect.
P: Somebody had to cut the strings or somehow or another unfurl it, right? Are
these kinds of stories fun and interesting? I think one of the things was, Jeanne
Dixon was not aware of the sign.
C: She didn't know.
P: And she was going on with her predictions.
C: With her psychic ability she didn't know. The irony of it was just...
P: She could have at least figured that out.
C: It's like when Nancy Reagan's [First Lady and wife of President Ronald Reagan,
[1981-1989] psychic said she was supposed to do something because her
mother had unexpectedly died, and it was like, "Wait a minute, unexpectedly?
Why didn't you know that?" So, yes, the irony of the whole thing. What a
P: And most students went to that lecture, as perhaps I did, with a lot of doubts but
curious to see what she would say. But I presume, with the sign, the
effectiveness of her predictions were pretty much eliminated and then it became
C: The whole thing was a joke, but it was funny. And I had just been taking
photojournalism, so I had my camera and that was perfect. That's the only
picture I ever did have published, though.
P: You also wrote Carni Gras, you might remember it was a little festival. And you
wrote about the Rathskeller, and they had Dion Dimucci [pop singer] who came
for a concert. How did you feel about those kinds of pieces as opposed to the
C: The loyalty oath story was obviously a more important, more serious subject, but
I really liked finding out stuff. Just like even though I felt kind of silly doing
obituaries, it was also interesting because it was something different.
P: The newspaper entertains as well as informs. There are things that people need
to know. If Dion is coming or Jeanne Dixon is coming, the newspaper has an
obligation to notify the university community about these events.
C: Right. But as a reporter, you prefer to do the stories about Iraq.
P: At one point, you wrote about the Rathskeller and that it had a rather significant
debt, something like $19,000 that was unaccounted for. How did you find out that
bit of information?
C: I don't really remember how I found out. I just stumbled onto it somehow.
P: One of the issues that you were heavily involved in all the way through your
career with the Alligator was, in essence, what we will generically call women's
rights. As I recall, during the time you were there O. D. K. didn't have women,
Blue Key didn't have women, and it seems to me, I remember Betty Friedan
[author of The Feminine Mystique], maybe this was later, came to campus
advocating women's entrance into Blue Key. Did you get involved in that at all,
write any editorials about that?
C: I was peripherally involved. I had been very lucky in that, you know, we sort of
referred to the Hugh Cunningham and the whole Carol Sanger event. I was
obviously there during that time, and we all walked out and we all thought it was
horrible. But then I got to be the editor. I have been very lucky. I was the first
female tenured professor at Nova [University]. So, I know that there was
discrimination against women, but I have been lucky and haven't really
experienced it. Maybe I'm just in the right place at the right time.
P: Let's talk about the Carol Sanger case. The Board of Student Publications was,
as we talked about earlier, picking a new editor, and although she had been
executive editor, they picked a guy named Robert Fraser who had absolutely no
C: Never set foot in the office.
P: So, the Alligator staff, in general, protested, and then there was this conflict with
Hugh Cunningham. One of the issues as I understand it, was that Hugh
Cunningham did not like the editorial content of the Alligator, therefore, he
wanted to put in some "new blood". Is that a fair assessment?
C: Yes. We talked earlier, too, about the closeness, the connection between student
government and the Alligator, and Carol was very connected to the student
government people, and I don't think Professor Cunningham liked that, either. As
staff members we thought these people should not be deciding, making
decisions, on content. Bob Frazier, who became the editor, had never been on
the staff. He was a military person, [or] that's what we heard. He was slightly
older at the time. Now, of course, it seems very young. But we thought, "This is
horrible, and who was Hugh Cunningham to tell us how to run our newspaper?"
So, we all walked out and we made a song, "Hugh, you are going to be sorry,"
and all this kind of stuff.
P: As a matter of fact, you did sign the protest letter.
P: Did everyone resign at that point?
C: Just about everyone resigned.
P: But you returned, obviously.
C: Yes, I did.
P: While he was still editor, right?
C: Yes, I did work for him. I really have thought about that a lot [and about] why I
did it. When I walked out, I thought that was the right thing to do, and I thought a
lot about it, and I was really unhappy not being on the Alligator. It was such an
important part of my life. I didn't think what they had done was right, but I didn't
really think what we had done was right, either. Maybe it was a rationalization,
but it was, "I'm not accomplishing anything by not working on the Alligator,
personally, professionally and for the school."
P: The way the document was presented, it was both a moral and personal decision
on the part of the Alligator staff. What you are saying now, in a professional
context, you could look at the decision to return a little bit differently.
C: Right. I was swept along, and I was young and felt like, "This is an outrage and
we have to do something about it." I talked to some of my friends, and some
people did go back and some people didn't. But we were so low on the totem
pole, it was sort of like, I don't know that they really did it to us. But as I say,
maybe it was just a rationalization.
P: How many others of the twenty-three who signed that petition come back to work
for the Alligator? The majority of them?
C: I don't know if I would say the majority. I would say the very top people, no. Carol
Sanger did not. Again, I try to be honest with myself, and maybe this is partially a
rationalization, but there were things that Carol did when she was executive
editor, she was the one who told me I had to stop dating this guy, that I didn't
think were right. So, I wasn't so sure that she was the right person. She was the
right person because it was her turn. She had worked for it. She was the next
person in line. She was the person who, if you were just looking at it, seemed to
fit in that position, but was that really the right person? And I don't know. I didn't
know enough about it.
P: But the Board of Student Publications has the responsibility of choosing the
person who would be the best editor. It doesn't matter who is "next in line" or who
C: That is right.
P: So, you wouldn't quarrel with their authority to make the choice. The argument
was they passed over a women to pick someone who had no experience
whatsoever. That was, as I understand it, the issue.
C: Right, and what I am now saying is, that is what I thought when it first happened.
I didn't go right back, and Bob was doing an okay job, and I think he did do an
okay job. I started thinking about, "Well, I'm not so sure [and] maybe it wasn't that
she's a woman."
P: Maybe it was political.
C: Maybe it was. I think it was wrong, too, if the reason they did it was really content
based because I don't think that was their job, either. But if they really
legitimately thought, and I don't know and I can't go back to find out, that there
was something wrong with her and there was something better about him, yes,
that was their responsibility. So, for a variety of reasons and, I admit, personal
[reasons in my decision to return].
P: Do you think that helped pave the way for your editorship?
C: Maybe, and maybe it was, "Boy, we don't want to go through that again, and she
is the next person." On the other hand, I like to think that it was, no, they just
thought Carol wasn't right, no matter boy, girl, black, white, whatever. No, she
was not right, and, yes, Phyllis is now the right person. You know, when I was
promoted the first time here, there was another woman up with me to be
promoted, and she didn't get it. She came into my office, and she said, "They
didn't promote me because I'm a woman." I wanted to go, "And what am I?" So,
yes, sometimes there is gender discrimination, no question about it. But
sometimes it is the woman isn't the best person for the job. It is easier to believe,
"It's because I'm a woman than it's because I'm not [qualified]."
P: It's an excuse when you don't want to admit that you didn't do the work
necessary for promotion. You can just say, "Well, they're picking on me..."
C: Because I'm a woman.
P: Or because I'm a minority or whatever.
C: Right. Sometimes that's true. Sometimes it is that they're picking on you because
you are a minority, but sometimes you are not the right person.
P: You did an article on the campus reaction to Kent State [where the Ohio National
Guard shot and killed some antiwar protesters] and antiwar protests. There were
teach-ins. How would you assess the mood of the campus during that time?
C: It seemed to me at the time that we were all really radicalized, and we were really
into it, and we thought that there were all these horrible things going on in the
world and that we really had a stake in and a way to influence what was
happening. We got gassed, and we were really into trying to affect [change].
Vietnam and all of that was going on around us. In however many years, I don't
even want to count, later, I'm wondering if I was in a very small group of people
out of a very large group of people who made a lot of noise and that it didn't go
very deep into the whole university community.
P: That's usually the case, of student movements anyway, although I should point
out 3,000 students at Florida allegedly went on strike and missed classes.
Nothing like what happened at University of California at Berkeley.
C: Right. When the black students took over the administration building, there were
a group of students, but there were also a group of rabble-rousers who
disappeared before anybody got into trouble. So, it seemed to me at the time that
the entire university community was involved in this.
P: You supported these antiwar protests. Did you get any pressure from Steve
O'Connell, or did you get any comments from students, faculty?
C: Yes, we got a lot of comments, and it wasn't only from them. I can still see myself
standing on the steps of the administration building, and all the black students
were there and me, and this one big black kid was threatening to throw me down
the stairs if I didn't leave, and what gave me the nerve to stand there [but] I was
like, "I'm not going." "What's wrong with you, Phyllis?" So, there was pressure
from a lot of groups. And I alluded to [this] earlier. We had Mr. French, who was
the production person. We had done a story, and I had written a headline, and he
was convinced it was too inflammatory, and I was convinced it wasn't. We went
back and forth, and he said he wasn't going to let it go, and I said, "You don't
have the right to not let it go." And I always got along very well with him. He said
he was going to call the president of the university, and he was going to call Mr.
Myking, and I said, "Go ahead." We went around and around about it, and then,
and I am not very proud of this, he said he didn't want to do that and he rewrote
it. And you know how it is, you just put it on and peel it off. And I let him do it. The
way we worked is, he would then take the flat and he'd hang it on the door to
make the picture to take the negative. I waited until he hung it on the door and
walked down this way. I pulled off his headline and put on my headline, and he
never knew until the next day when he showed up.
P: Was he upset with you?
C: He was upset, and he had a right to be upset. I shouldn't have done that. As I
said, I am not proud of it. He didn't have a right to do what he did, but I shouldn't
have done what I did, either. So, there was pressure like that, and people did
keep calling me, Mr. Myking. We got pressure from the president of the
university, too, to tone it down.
P: The Board of Student Publications?
C: Not as a group. There were people who contacted me. My father, "How did I
P: It seemed to most people at that time, and of course the student rebellion had
taken a long time to get here from Berkeley, the free speech movement was
three or four years earlier, but for Florida, basically north Florida, this was pretty
radical stuff. You can see where parents and some faculty that were upset.
C: They were. But I really believe, having just admitted I am not proud of what I did
with Mr. French, that we were really responsible. I don't think we did anything
that was really designed to stir up the troops. We tried to remain somewhat
objective, except in the editorials, which I don't think we should've been objective
P: But critics see you and the editorial is something they can point to physically as a
rabble-rouser. You're the one stirring up the students.
C: Right. I think we were trying to get students involved. We were reporting on what
was happening, and the editorials were designed to make people think, but not
really to make people go in the streets and overturn cars.
P: That would be irresponsible, obviously.
C: Right. So, I wrote them, but I don't think the editorials were irresponsible or
P: Another thing that was particularly interesting to me: during this time, O. D. K.
begins the proposal, which also comes out of Berkeley, to evaluate professors.
The theory was, and a correct theory, if professors can evaluate students, why
not the reverse. There were some faculty who were, like any profession, either
incompetent or unfair or what have you. What was the mood of the student body
in regard to this issue?
C: I think students were for that. It is interesting because you would think that
students would really want to do that and have input, and yet we've noticed here,
we also do student evaluations now, we get very few students who are interested
enough to do it. So, it is something we really fought for as students, and yet
today's students, I don't know how it is at Florida now, just don't seem to be that
P: Yes. I think it depends on the level of the student and how long they've been
there, and some, I think, have dismissed it as not very effective, that nobody
really pays any attention to what they write. They have to do it, so they do it. But
often they do it very carefully and very thoughtfully, which turns out to be a great
benefit to the faculty, as long as they don't make snide remarks that they dislike
the color of your ties. So, from the beginning I think it probably was a positive
experience, although some faculty didn't like it [and] didn't want it.
C: Because it's uncomfortable to be evaluated.
P: In March of 1971, Ron Sachs did this story on the death of Terry Grub at the
Alachua Sheriff's office. How much were you involved in that, and how important
C: I was not really [involved]. By that time, I had moved over into different areas
[and] I was doing different things. But I think it was important. I think Ron Sachs
was an important editor and made an impact on the Alligator and the face of the
Alligator, [with] that and [with] the abortion stuff, the abortion clinics, publishing
the abortion information.
P: Yes. He was the one who first put out that list. Was that an issue that came to
you when you were editor?
P: One thing, I believe, that came out of this was that it demonstrated at least the
inadequacy of the jails because how could this occur and nobody know it?
C: Yes. Ron was a good guy, and he was a really good editor. Between my tenure
at the Alligator and Ron's, it became very clear, I think, to the university and to
President O'Connell that he needed to either get control of us, which he didn't
have, or he needed to get rid of us because of the liability for what we were
[doing]. We were running amok. As I say, I like to think that we were responsible
running amok, but, you know, we were students.
P: You certainly made his life more difficult.
C: We certainly did, and he didn't like it. I can understand why he didn't like it, and I
can see why he was saying if he was going to have responsibility, he wanted
control. You know, if you are the editor of the Gainesville Sun, you have to listen
to the publisher. And he was the publisher. But when you're the editor of the
Alligator, you think you're autonomous.
P: Did you realize at that point that the Alligator needed to be independent?
C: I think we didn't realize it until, really, Ronnie. I think that I still thought I was
working within the system. He really was bolder than I and got outside the
system, and I think that was when it became clear.
P: Particularly on the abortion issue.
C: The abortion issue was really the main [turning point.] The prison thing was
important, but the abortion thing was what, I think, really highlighted that this is
an untenable situation.
P: It's also interesting that what you have is a student newspaper doing what we
would call investigative journalism. It wasn't just reporting. Most newspapers
today don't do much of that.
P: Was that something that was, during your editorship, encouraged, or did these
events just happen and you found things out and delved into the details?
C: We tried to find things out. Like the John Reaves thing, I had this idea and I went
after it. That is what we thought journalists did. Now, some things fell into your
lap, as you said, the Rathskeller, who's coming [to campus], and Jeanne Dixon.
That stuff you have to do. But we tried to be investigative reporters. We tried to
do important stories.
P: March 29, 1971, you became the first female editor of the Alligator and probably
the first female editor of a daily campus newspaper. I don't know of anybody
else. Do you know?
C: I don't know.
P: That must have been for what used to be called the spring quarter, right?
P: How long were you editor, specifically?
C: Two terms, that term and the summer.
P: When they picked you, do you recall any controversy or any tension about the
C: I was tense [laughing].
P: They brought you in for an interview, correct?
C: An interview, and then they interviewed other people, and then they announced
it. It was very exciting.
P: What was the most difficult part of your job when you first took over, because
obviously you were succeeding another editor and you don't have a lot of time to
organize the staff.
C: Yes. It was difficult, and it was also difficult because the managing editor ran for
editor, and he also had been the sports editor [Sam Pepper] with whom I had the
conflict about John Reaves, so we had a history that wasn't a good one.
P: Jeff Klinkenberg worked with you as sort of executive editor?
P: I have heard good things about him.
C: Yes. And Sam and I got to where we worked well together, too, but it was
problematic. And having said I wasn't discriminated against as a female, there
were problems being a female editor with male staff members who didn't think
that was right or who were on Sam's side. And it was a lot of responsibility. I did
feel like it was wonderful and it was an amazing high to be selected, but it was
like, "Oh, my gosh, now what?"
P: And you ended up being in the middle of a lot of controversies.
C: Of a lot of mess, yes. I had the feeling like, "Wow, am I doing this right," and then
I would say, "Yes, this is the right thing to do."
P: But you didn't have any problems with people disagreeing with your decisions or
refusing to carry out what you asked them to do because you were a woman?
C: I don't think so.
P: How much time did it take as editor, and how did that affect your academic work?
C: It took a lot of time, and I devoted a lot of time.
P: Can you give me some sense on a daily basis? How many hours a day?
C: Boy, I was at the Alligator from early in the morning until late in the night. You
would just run to class and run back. Actually, the first term I dropped a class
because of it. It was like, "This is not going well." But it was so much more
important than school. It was obviously a lot more fun than school. As I said,
when it comes to what money am I going to give to some organization, the
Alligator is first because it did the most for me in my entire life.
P: One of the things you set up as an editor was the Alligator Press Council. What
was that about, and why did you do that?
C: The idea was, there was so much controversy and to have a sort of group that
would be advising us and giving us additional input for some of the things that we
were doing and [serving] as sort of a citizen group. As I said earlier, where we
had the feeling that everybody was with us because we were with people who
were with us, here was a chance to get a cross-section and maybe find out that
maybe we weren't right [and] maybe there were things going on and opinions
that we weren't getting.
P: This is a totally different group from the Board of Student Publications.
P: Who were members of this council?
C: It was sort of a cross-section of people whom we selected to be on it.
P: Do you mean students, faculty?
C: Yes, students, faculty, a whole group of people.
P: Any local business people?
C: I don't remember whether there were local business people. I don't recall if we
did that. I think we did.
P: Did it work as you anticipated?
C: Yes, it was interesting. Again, it was the idea, and I think this happens to all kinds
of groups, that you become so insulated, you only listen to each other, and you
lose track of that there's another whole world out there. That was the idea: could
we get input from people who weren't us and who didn't look like us and whom
we hadn't really chosen to be us? Because the group of students who worked on
the Alligator were fairly homogenous in that we all had basically the same
political views, [and] we worked together, we talked together, we were in school
together. So, here was an idea of getting a whole different cross-section of the
P: Plus when you get attacked, you are unified, you are very defensive, and you
don't know whether this attack is valid or not because you have no other real
C: Right, and hopefully this group was going to tell us to avoid the attack because,
by the way, you have only done one side of this issue and here's another side.
Which maybe we didn't even do out of bad motives. It was just, we don't even
see that side.
P: Let's talk about what I presume is probably the most controversial issue of your
time as editor, and that was the time when sixty-seven black students went to
President Steve O'Connell's office and, as I understand the events, came in and
left and came back and left and then came in finally and sat down, and refused to
leave. O'Connell called the police and had them arrested. At what point did you
find out about all of this, and what did you do in terms of reporting? Were you just
writing editorials? Were you on the scene?
C: No, I was on the scene. We heard that they were going to do it, and I think I said
earlier, what happened was, there was a group of outside rabble-rousers who
came along and got these sixty-seven students involved.
P: Now, who would that be? Do you have any specific knowledge of individuals?
C: All I remember was we identified that they were people who were not students
who had come and sort of agitated the students [and] gotten them to the
administration building. We heard that was going to happen. I went down there,
and we had other reporters who went down there. I was there when it was all
going on. But before the police got there, the outside people were gone, and it
was just the students who were arrested. We did get gassed. They actually used
gas. It was very, very bad.
P: But as I recall, they did not in any way beat or mistreat the sixty-seven students.
C: No. They just took them away.
P: Here is an editorial, April 19, "Who Is Right?" Did you write all of the editorials
during this time?
C: Yes, I wrote them.
P: One of the things that you talk about very early in your editorials is what you see
as racial discrimination, and it is sort of a broad concept, "There are not enough
black faculty and not enough black students." But in this particular case, you
argued that O'Connell refused to listen to their demands.
P: Did you feel the demands were fair, that O'Connell was unfair? Did you
understand why he did what he did?
C: I think he should have listened. I think that people should listen when people say
that they have what appear to be legitimate concerns. Because of the way they
did it, I think he got immediately defensive and said, "We're having you arrested,
go away." I don't think that was right. I think there should have been some
acknowledgment that they had legitimate concerns and let's see if there's
something we can do about them.
P: From his perspective, because we did an oral history with him, he sees this as a
violation of his rights. They have come into his office.
C: His space.
P: And as a former justice of the Florida Supreme Court, he had a sense of, "This is
my private space they have invaded, I have asked them to leave and they have
refused to do so, that they have taken it too far."
C: That's why I said the way they did it, I think, is what put him off, but I don't know
how they could have done it to have gotten his attention and not put him in that
position. On the other hand, I think that, because it was these outside people
who came in and were giving them advice, obviously this was much more
dramatic than if one of them had called and said, "I'd like to make an
appointment with the president of the University and I'm going to bring some of
P: As a matter of fact, as I recall, Sam Taylor was vice president, and he was
African-American. He certainly had access to the president.
C: Right. And there were times when I was able to call and make an appointment
with the president. Now, I was in a position that was different, but, yes, Sam
could have done it, and there were other people who could have done it.
P: Did his background as a member of a segregated country club, his Supreme
Court decisions, which were almost uniformly against civil rights, do you think
that influenced your editorial stance in writing about him?
C: I don't know. I felt like what he was doing was wrong at the moment. I think
everybody is a product of their experience, and that's probably why he was doing
it, but my concern was what was happening at the moment, not what led him to
P: As you go through this confrontation in your editorials, to a very large degree,
you are urging them to make some sort of compromise. The students should
make some adjustments and that O'Connell should make some adjustments, but
apparently that did not have an impact on either side.
C: Right. I was singularly unsuccessful [laughing]. Absolutely completely 100
percent nobody was listening. Part of the problem on the part of the students was
the drama. They could have done it in a different way, and I think he would've
been more open to suggestion had they done it in a different way.
P: At one point, there is an article in the newspaper stating that they had a mock
burial of O'Connell, and in one of your editorials you sort of hinted that maybe his
resignation might resolve the problem. Did you really either expect him or really
think he should resign?
C: I thought it was a big issue, I really did, but I had no expectation he would resign
and certainly not based on anything I said. Whether he should have, I don't
know. It was unfortunate. I think both sides took these extreme positions, and
neither one of them was completely right, and so they should have compromised.
P: But for either one to compromise would be to admit that they had been wrong.
C: And that they weren't absolutely correct, and both sides said they were
[End side A2]
P: One of the things I have learned in reading some interviews with Steve O'Connell
and others is that neither side really had much understanding or sympathy for the
position of the other combatant. I wonder if that's a product of the time. Steve
O'Connell was white. Civil rights were progressing but slowly. The blacks had
seen enough discrimination, "Now it's time to make a change, [and] this is the
only way we can get any reaction, is to be a little strident." Is that something that
could not have been overcome?
C: I think because both sides were so entrenched in their position, were so
committed to their position, there was probably no way to compromise at that
point. But I think that's unfortunate because, as I said, I don't think either side
was completely right.
P: Do you think O'Connell made a mistake? Did he overreact in having them
P: In the beginning, he was saying they are going to be kicked out of school.
C: And all that stuff. Yes, I think he did, but, again, I think they were wrong, too. I
think in their heads, probably, the only way to get his attention was this, but I'm
not sure that was right, either. I think they could have gotten his attention in a
less dramatic kind of way, but they pushed him into a corner. Each side
overreacted, and so neither side could back down.
P: I also should point out that O'Connell had the support of local politicians, state
politicians, some community leaders. In other words, he was rather vigorously
backed by the powers that be, so I think he felt fairly certain that he would not
lose his job or have to resign. The downside of this, it seems to me, ultimately
was that 175 students left the university, which was 50 percent of the black
student population. There were only 300 black students then anyway.
C: Right. If you put yourself back into that time, the truth is it was a racist time.
We're still living in a racist time, but it certainly was much worse then, and there
wasn't any real commitment to changing it.
P: You wrote an editorial asking the students to stay. I think it was, "We need you."
It would be a greater blow to the students themselves to give up their education,
better to stay and continue the fight.
C: I really believed that, and I still believe that. I don't think there is any sense to
spite yourself and walk away. But I do believe it also hurts the university if we
don't have diversity, and it hurts the majority students and the majority faculty if
we don't have minority people around.
P: It certainly gave the university a black eye. I think in national terms, there was
this sense that Florida was a racist university and O'Connell was a racist
president. Did you think that was the case? Did you think he was a racist?
C: I hesitate to label anybody a racist because I don't know what goes on in their
head. I think his views were shaped by his background, but I don't think he was
affirmatively acting as a racist. I do think he was wrong in this issue.
P: When the faculty left, ultimately after several faculty members resigned, not too
many but a few, then they hired Tom Cole as a vice president. O'Connell
ultimately made some sacrifices. There was a director of minority affairs. Did he
make enough concessions? Did he make enough of a commitment to expand the
black faculty, expand the student body?
C: I don't know the answer to that. I don't know if there's ever enough. Just
deciding, Okay, we're going to have four black people, you know, I don't know. I
hate making decisions based on that. I don't like, and I know the answer in a lot
of places is, the director of minority affairs. Somehow we have got to erase the
distinctions. By creating more distinctions, by creating a position that the whole
idea is minorities, I object to that. I have a close friend who has just recently
decided to go back to an HBCU because she is tired of fighting the fight. It is like,
"No, I am so against segregated education and the idea that you have a whole
school now devoted to minorities." We do that, too, and "We need to have this
many black people." No.
P: How important in all of this was Roy Mitchell [Director of minority affairs].
Obviously, he encouraged the students to leave. He resigned. Do you think he
was sort of the leader, as it were, of the students? Because there weren't many
C: Maybe so. Again, it is hard for me, because I was really outside, to figure out
exactly what the black students were thinking and why they were reacting the
way they were reacting.
P: How important was Mike Gannon, who was then a Catholic priest?
C: He was a very important person, I think. There were a lot of students who had an
awful lot of respect for him. Is he still there [in the history department]?
P: Yes. Just retiring this year. Another issue that comes up is the Regent Elizabeth
Kovachevich, who made a statement in a speech about open houses in the
dorms. She referred to the dorms as "taxpayers' whorehouses". What did you
write about that particular statement?
C: Did I? I don't remember.
P: What was your reaction to that?
C: It's ridiculous. But she had a tendency to say things that were a little bizarre, so I
don't think it was so... It wasn't as if [she was] somebody who you wouldn't
expect to say something weird. She had a reputation of being weird.
P: In fact, I think there was one editorial that really requested an apology because
she had denigrated the students. It all came about from some letter that a mother
wrote to her and then she made this all-encompassing statement, and the
editorial said, "Well, you branded everybody."
C: And you should apologize. Yes, I sort of recall it.
P: How did you all do financially when you were editor? Technically, throughout this
time, the Alligator was always a bit iffy.
C: My ex-husband, Randy Coleman, was the business manager. Randy was in
business school, and he ultimately became a C. P. A., and now he's a lawyer.
From my perspective, money wasn't an issue, except I always wanted more color
in the paper and that was something we had to negotiate.
P: That was expensive then.
C: Expensive, yes.
P: One other thing that occurred to me and that you reported on was, seven United
States senators, including George McGovern [South Dakota, 1963-1981] and
Birch Bayh [Indiana, 1963-1981], had officially requested the Civil Rights
Commission to do an investigation of the circumstances at UF. Did that ever
come about? Did anybody ever contact you?
P: So, all this sort of died out eventually.
P: What was your reaction, with the naming of the O'Connell Center. A lot of
minorities were very upset with that and thought that was something that should
not have been done.
C: I understand that, but I think that he did a lot of good things for the university, too,
and I think it's in recognition of that. You know, nobody is perfect.
P: Other than the black student protest and Kent State, were there any other major
issues of importance that you can think about during your tenure as editor?
C: There were financial issues with the university that we thought were important,
that they weren't doing things that we liked.
P: For example?
C: I remember writing an editorial about "Silence is golden, but there ain't much talk
around UF now" because we were financially having problems. But the main
thing was Kent State and the civil unrest.
P: One thing that is of lesser importance but obviously important to students was
they were going to start charging you for football tickets.
C: Oh, right, and now... That's a problem, right?
P: [Laughs]. Also, they did away with this old card section where, remember, they
flipped cards and everybody got fifty-yard line seats until they decided that we
don't need to be putting students in the seats at the fifty yard line.
C: We were really upset that the athletic dorm was so much nicer than all the [other
dorms]. Yes, charging for football tickets. That's a major problem now. Do you
know some of the universities are actually doing PSLs, personal seat licenses?
The price of football tickets for college students is ridiculous and not giving tickets
what students used to get. Yes, it's a big problem.
P: At this point, as I recall, students didn't have to pay anything, and just about
everybody could get in.
C: If you could go, yes.
P: Now, of course, it is really restricted to the "student section," and it is hard to get
C: And it's bigger than it was when I was there.
P: Oh, yes, by far. It would be twice the size, almost, that you had. Were sports a
predominant issue for the Alligator?
C: Pretty much. Now, I wasn't as interested, although that summer issue I did the
whole sports section myself. I didn't know what I was doing, but it was fun
because I got to lay it out and I did all kinds of odd and different kinds of
graphics. But sports was always important at UF, and so the sports department
and the sports editor were important because sports is important to UF.
P: But when you were editor, that was a lesser issue for you personally.
C: For me, yes.
P: You were more interested in what we might see as broad-based issues, like anti-
war, civil rights, as opposed to who's performing at the Rat.
P: Do you see that as the essential focus of the editor, that the editor should be
concentrating on the big picture, major events, what's going on on campus?
P: How did you feel about the quality of your education during your four years as an
undergraduate at Florida?
C: I thought it was excellent. I really did. I hear now from some of my students who
have graduated from UF about the huge classes and the TV classes, and they
live in Miami and they are going to UF. It is like, "What?" The first two years when
I hadn't gotten into journalism school yet, we did have some big classes, in the
auditorium with 500 people. That was horrible. But the quality of my journalism
education I thought was excellent. They really did a fabulous job, all of the
teachers I had. Some of them were, you know, Buddy Davis, but all of them were
P: We talked a little bit about this but when you look back on your time at the
Alligator and as editor, do you really see that as a formative experience in your
life, because you do decide later to go into law but, in addition, to personal goals
and professional goals? You say it made you a little more confident and more
mature, so you do see that as really a significant period in your life.
C: Yes. I really believe that the Alligator made me who I am today, and I mean the
good parts of me, not the others. It gave me so much personally and
professionally. I would encourage everybody, anybody, who even thinks they'd
like to go into journalism to do something like their college newspaper. I have
frequently said if I had to go back to practicing law, I would go back to journalism.
I would never go back to practicing law. I really enjoyed being a journalist, and I
would have stayed in that but for life circumstances. I love this job. This is the
best job in the history of the world. I can't believe they pay me.
P: Plus, you look back at your experience with a lot of fondness and nostalgia. You
really enjoyed it.
C: Yes. I loved it. I really did. It was the first time in my life, I was kind of a shy kid, I
really became a person, and it was wonderful.
P: Is there anything that we have not talked about that you would like to discuss,
any issues, events, editorials?
C: There were a lot of people who were so important in that time. Ed [Barber] is one
of them. Ed is a fabulous guy, and he has helped so many people through the
P: One thing I have noticed in looking at the people we are going to interview is,
there have been quite a few highly successful individuals in whatever profession
who have come from the Alligator, leave alone people like Carl Hiaasen and Ed
Sears who become editors and publishers and prize winners. So, obviously the
Alligator has been a great training ground, not just for journalism but for
professions in general.
C: Right. A disproportionate number of people went to law school. There were a lot
of us who became lawyers because I think they are sort of connected. But, yes, I
think it really did. I think it helped people to grow and to become confident and
successful. I know it did it for me.
P: Is there anything else?
C: I can't think of anything.
P: Well, on that note, I want to thank you very much for your time.
C: Thank you. It was nice to meet you.
[End of interview.]