Interviewee: Hugh Cunningham
Interviewer: Mark Ward
Date: November 17, 2003
W: Today is November 17, 2003. This is Mark Ward with Hugh Cunningham for the
Alligator Oral History Project. Mr. Cunningham, where are you from originally?
C: I'm a Texan. [I was] born in Eliasville, Texas, which is a place nobody knows.
W: Where did you go to school, originally, for college?
C: I went to Trinity University [in San Antonio, Texas] and the University of Missouri.
W: What did you study there at Trinity?
C: At Trinity I was an economics and business administration major. I got my
Masters in Journalism from the University of Missouri.
W: What interested you in journalism?
C: I guess I began a journalism career at about the age of seven or eight. My
mother was a country correspondent for a weekly newspaper. My mother and
father ran a post office in a small town. She gathered the news for the weekly
newspaper, and I assisted her. In the small high school I was in, we dabbled
with a mimeograph newspaper. I was always sort of the leader in that. Where I
went to a liberal arts college it did not have a journalism program. Since my
father and mother, at that time, had gone into business, my pursuit was a
business career. But immediately, I got into student publications. On the
newspaper, I was the associate editor and editor of the annual for my college.
Then in the last year or two, they added a journalism course or two, which I took.
Before I graduated from Trinity, [during] one long summer, I was city editor of a
small daily newspaper in west Texas in 1941. The war came along and changed
people's professions, but, because of my journalism background, I became a
communications officer in the Navy and was schooled at the postgraduate school
of the US Naval Academy in Communications. When the war was over, I
attended the University of Missouri. Before I finished my graduate work there, a
small college in Texas had established a vocational program in the printing,
photography, and photo engraving arts with a contract from the Texas Press
Association. Because the newspaper strike in Chicago at that time had
threatened to become nationwide, the Texas publishers wanted to be prepared
for the mechanics of it.
This little college didn't have a journalism program, and to enable students
vocationally in the graphic arts program to have something to do, they asked me
to come down and establish a journalism program, which we did. Again, under
contract of [the] Texas Press Association, we published three newspapers a
week on campus using cold type processes and photo engraving and relief
printing in one of the very earliest experiments at this time in the country. That
had been my interest because I had done work in printing during my whole
stretch. I left there to become editor of the Bryan Eagle newspaper.
W: Is that at in Texas also, sir?
C: That's in Texas. Bryan and College Station are twin cities, and Texas A&M
University is located in College Station, which was not an incorporated city at that
time. So the Bryan newspaper served that community as well as Bryan. Then,
when the University of Florida established the first journalism program in the
state of Florida, under a man named Rae [O.] Weimer [director, then dean of
College of Journalism and Communications, University of Florida, 1949-1968]
who did not even have a college degree but who had been a distinguished
newspaper editor [I came to Florida]. He searched the nation for practicing
journalists who had masters degrees. This had been put upon him as a
requirement by the university. Since he himself had not been a journalism
educator, or even educated journalistically, they felt that they needed some
degree of academia, but he insisted on professionalism. So he recruited me
here. I came in 1955. I continued at the University of Florida until 1989.
In the summer times [I would work] for newspapers as a replacement editor in
Atlanta, [Georgia]; Ft. Lauderdale, [Florida]; St. Petersburg, [Florida]; [and]
Asheville, North Carolina. [I would also] write editorials for the Gainesville Sun
before it became corporate owned. [I taught] journalism by taking students to the
Gainesville Sun, which turned the newspaper over to me and I produced it with
students in a class that lasted from 6:30 in the morning until 4:30 in the afternoon
[two days, and some semesters, four days a week].
Then, for twelve years, I was drafted into the president's office and became
director of information for the University [of Florida]. [I] returned to the faculty for
five years, and then I became editor for a year for the Anchorage Times in
Alaska. That's my journalism career.
W: How did you first come to know the Alligator, sir? What was your first impression
of the Alligator coming to campus in 1955?
C: Well, I was dumped into the Alligator from the very beginning. Part of my duties
in the offering of the job to me was that I would become executive secretary to
the Board of Student Publications, an unwieldy position that remained that way
as long as it existed. The Alligator, in line with the student body of the University
of Florida, [was probably] the most independent student newspaper, as was
student government, under the purview of the administration. This whole
university was run by what's known as an honor system. Exams were not
proctored. A professor could not even be in a room while an examination was
given. It was an honor system modeled after that of the military academies of
this country. The reason it worked at the University of Florida for so many years
was not because it was an all-male institution but by the very fact that, being an
all-male institution and each student having to take ROTC, the so-called honor
was monitored by a military system of students. When there was a cheater, he
was taken out to the edge of town and run out of town. That is literally so. So
when I came in 1955, the journalism program just beginning didn't have anything
to do with the student publications.
By that time, it had been eight years into a co-educational institution. It had gone
that way in 1947, so they were growing into needs in the areas that had not been
before. Meanwhile, the absolute independence of the student newspaper, even
though [it was] a part of the university system in the independence of student
government, was extremely strong. The Board of Student Publications was the
university's method of exercising what was known, and became the bug-a-boo of
the whole system, that this board exercised general control over publications. I
spent two years as executive [secretary], and I spent the whole two years trying
to redefine general control and never was able and nobody else ever was. That
was part of the problem. So [they tried to maintain] general control over
something that was fiercely independent. Mr. Weimer, being a very practical
man, thought it would be a good idea to have a person as executive secretary
who had been a newspaper editor, not just a reporter. As a matter of fact, I
succeeded Buddy Davis. He had served in that position [for] one year. He had
been a reporter. I had been an editor, and an editor knows more about the full
thrust of publication than just a reporter, so that's the reason he put me there.
The Alligators offices were on the floor [of] what was then the student union,
which is now Dauer Hall. All our publications were there. There were several.
So in my position I served as the executive for the board that exercised general
control over these six or seven publications. What was my opinion of it? Well,
when I came there and saw the fierce independence, not only in that but the
fierce independence of the academic system, in my short time previously as an
academic in working with students [I had never had] to give an exam without
monitoring [it], all of those things were quite unusual. So I went to my office and
sat there and had a secretary and we wrote letters and we worked on how to
define general control. If anybody came to me with a problem, I would give them
my advice. Then, the next morning, instead of going back to that office, I went to
my office at the college and taught my classes. It was just that. Over a period of
time I gained the confidence. They could use me to gain some of their little
W: What kind of problems would they come to you with?
C: Well, [they had problems with] relationships with their printer, how to take care of
the distribution. Those were the biggest problems they had. This is significant,
the editor was Al Quentel. This was in 1955. He's now a very able attorney in
Miami. This was a time as what's known as the Charley Johns' [Florida state
senator, 1947, 1955-1966; Florida governor, 1953-1955] investigation of
homosexuality on campus. So Al Quentel, as editor of the Alligator, had been
provided with a number of tapes. These tapes allegedly, and I think actually
were, the voices of University of Florida faculty members engaging in sexual
activities in the public restrooms of the courthouse and on campus and various
other places. He had those tapes. So he came to me and he said, I've got these
tapes; I'm going to print them, and I just wanted to let you know about that. I'm
not sure he asked for advice directly, but I think that's what he was doing. So the
chairman of the Board of Student Publications at the time was John Paul Jones,
who later became dean of the college [of journalism]. So I went to Paul with the
problem. The two of us sat down with Al and he said, I want you to hear these
things so you'll know what they are. [We said,] Al, we're not; we won't do that.
We are not going to be put in a position of telling you [that] you can or you can't
publish the contents of these tapes. But we went over very carefully the
ramifications of it, and he decided not to do so. Whether he was right or wrong in
the end, who knows? But that's what happened. I think the way we handled that
enabled us, me, representing the college, and Paul Jones, to have the Alligator
people have some confidence in some journalism faculty. Journalism had just
been introduced. Al Quentel wasn't even a journalism major. Up to that time,
none of these people would even have a journalism major, and very few were
involved. That was probably the most significant enabler at the time, as an
example of some of the things.
I guess the big thing was that as the university was growing, for the first time that
year the university surpassed 10,000, they [no longer] wanted a weekly
[newspaper]. They wanted to go semi-weekly. So I was able to help them. The
first editor was Don Bacon. I didn't directly [engineer] the Alligator going semi-
weekly, [but] I think I was an enabler who helped them with some advice out of
the practical experience that I carried into that.
W: You wouldn't invoke prior restraint at this time, you would actually let them
publish the contents of those tapes?
C: I never did invoke prior restraint, and I never attempted to. That standard is what
really led to the independence of the Alligator. By that time, a federal judge had
ruled that a university could not [invoke prior restraint]. I made no attempt to, but
when it became a law that it could not, [it particularly put] the president in a very
untenable position of being responsible for exercising everything. So there was a
possibility that at some time it might be necessary. I guess some attempts were
made. As a matter of fact, during the time that I was associated off and on with
the Alligator as executive secretary and then chairman of the board twice, two
Alligator editors were removed [by boards I was not a part of]. I had nothing to
do with those. Neither one of them had to do with prior restraint. It had to do
with subsequent restraint. It was the only method of handling that, which is not a
W: David Lawrence, in 1963, would be the first one of those. Ben Cason, in 1966,
was the second.
C: Both of these are very close professional and personal friends to this very day. I
had nothing to do with their removal; I was not associated. There again, I acted
in the capacity of being a counselor, if nothing else, to hold their hands while they
went through this. The Lawrence thing was totally uncalled for. The Cason one
was a little bit questionable. Ben and I are almost like father and son.
W: What was the composition of the Board of Student Publications?
C: The Board of Student Publications was comprised of four faculty members
appointed by the president. By this time, the president had acceded to the dean
or the director of the school of journalism to appoint the chairman. Then there
were four faculty members, always one from journalism and always one from the
law [school]. Three students [were] chosen, I guess, by the president of student
body. So it was four/three: four faculty and three students. But then there was
another, and that was the Publications Electoral Board. That was a different one
because it was the board plus two, the president of the student body and the
secretary of the senate. So that made the electoral board a five student/ four
faculty member board. We really never did have too much trouble with that, but
there was a difference in the balance of power.
W: Did the electoral board serve the role of just electing the next candidate?
C: That's all they did; all they did was select editors and managing editors.
W: When did you start working for the president's office specifically?
C: [I started working there in] 1973.
W: I would like to get into some of the questions surrounding the Alligator's
C: I think maybe we need to get just back up to that point to get a chronology, at
least of my part in it.
W: Yes, sir.
C: I stepped down from the executive secretary [position] in 1957, so [this
happened] about four years later [in 1961]. The publications in general were
giving President [J. Wayne] Reitz [1955-1967] what he felt were problems,
particularly the Orange Peel, the humor magazine which the Board of Student
Publications had general control [of]. It was more vexing than the Alligator ever
was. President Reitz was determined to get rid of the Orange Peel and to see if
more professionalism could be added to the newspaper. So he asked me to
serve as chairman of the Board of Student Publications, which I agreed to do.
During that era, we decided one of the best things we could do with the Alligator,
from the standpoint of the newspaper itself and from the standpoint of the
institution, was for it to become a daily. So it became a daily newspaper during
my first tenure as the chairman of the Board of Student Publications under an
editor named Bill Curry. I don't recall whether that was during 1961 or 1962. He
was editor two different times.
We were able to dispense with the Orange Peel. Simply, it demised because it
had been so good and so raunchy that no successor could be found to even
measure up to it. I offered a program to salvage the Orange Peel. It was an
interesting program. I want to get this into the record, because it was never
adopted. It was the sort of thing that took away the opposition of those who were
championing for the Orange Peel for it to continue as it was, just purely as a
humor magazine. About 75 percent [was] pretty smutty, and it had raised the ire
of the legislature of the state of Florida on many occasions. By this time, the
literary magazine had folded, and in general activities for those students
interested in the practice of print journalism were gradually fading away. So I
proposed that we have a magazine called the University of Florida Portfolio. No
more than one-third could be humor, then other portions would be literary,
another of opinion, and another of other creative arts, artistry, drawing, or
artwork, and that would all be under the cover of one magazine. The outgoing
editor, Don Addis, who has since become a very famous cartoonist, [had been in
one of my classes]. We became pretty close. I sent the [proposal] to him,
because he had such broad interests. Because of that, the Orange Peel died
rather successfully and without much problem with the hope that this thing would
come about, but there was always a small group who did not like that decision,
and they kept us informed of that.
At that time, the vice president for Student Affairs was a man named Lester Hale.
His son-in-law, named Lee Trinkle, ran for student body president with the
platform that he was going to revive the Orange Peel. When I was able to get
the Orange Peel in its demise without too much objection, at least for the leaders
at the time, President Reitz told me in front of Les Hale in his office, very
dramatically. He backed his chair up to the window and he said, students have
backed me to the wall on this; there will never be another Orange Peel on this
campus. So that was fine. He thanked me for getting the job done. That
summer I went away [to] North Carolina, and somebody sent me a copy of a
newspaper. It said that Hugh Cunningham['s] tenure had expired as chairman of
the Board of Student Publications and that he was being replaced by so and so.
Well, my tenure had not expired, but I was being replaced. Trinkle had won the
election, and, by the next fall they revived a thing call The New Orange Peel. It
didn't last but an issue or two and then it died.
During [my chairmanship], we moved the Alligator into daily publication and
employed a full-time executive secretary to the Board of Student Publications.
Actually, that's what he became. He was not attached to the College of
Journalism, but his powers were much broader. He was more or less the
publisher. He didn't exercise editorial control, as in many places publishers don't,
but he served full-time in an advisory capacity. We brought in a man by the
name of K.B. Meurlott. So that was my next tenure, then, in 1968, the Alligator
was running into two or three problems.
By that time, Meurlott had stepped down and he had employed a very young
man to be in that position. He had become kind of close to some of the female
workers. There were just various things taking place. [Also,] the Alligator staff
had become such a strong clique [that] almost nobody could get into it. Steve
O'Connell [president, University of Florida, 1963-1973] saw this as a very big
problem, and it was. I agreed with him, so he asked me if I would serve as the
chairman of the Board of Student Publications in 1968. I accepted it on an
interim basis, but, during that time, we kind of cleared out the hired hands and
brought in some others. One of them [was] [Charles] Ed Barber. We went out
[found] an editor of the publications, a fellow named Bob Fraser ... Here is
where we used the board and actually, by that time, the student government was
beginning to be upset by what was happening with the Alligator being such a
strong clique. Even the student government didn't feel like they were getting a
fair shake. So, with that majority there, that's one place [the electoral board] did
work, we broadened the appeal for editor candidates. Up until that time, it had
been very, very limited. He had to have so many years or semesters on the
Alligator and various other things. So we eliminated that and opened it up, and a
fellow named Bob Fraser came along. He had never worked on the Alligator.
The other candidates were two or three from this clique, so that at least did that.
W: Wasn't the staff of the Alligator very upset by that choice and actually left the
C: Yes, they were. While I tell you that I was involved in an awful lot of the changes
in the Alligator and the student publications, I was also accused by certain
[people] of being a hatchet man. In some cases, [I have been accused of]
carrying out the desires of the president. But it was two different presidents. One
was Reitz and one is O'Connell. The truth of the business is that I fully agreed
with them. As a matter of fact, I may have had, more than I probably will ever
know, [more] influence on them coming to their decision rather than their using
me to do their hatchet work. The reason I say that is because in 1971 I was still
interim chairman of the Board of Student Publications. This federal judge in
Massachusetts, I believe, made a ruling. He stated in this ruling, "having
fostered a campus newspaper, the state may not impose arbitrary restrictions on
the matter to be communicated. Students may not be confined to the expression
of those sentiments that are officially approved." That meant no prior restraint.
W: Now it was official.
C: Yes, it was absolutely official. I guess the Alligator had been one of the most of
independent newspapers. There were other cases [where] restraint had been
applied. When I was the associate editor of a newspaper as a student, we [were
restrained], the editor and I, it was a two-man operation. We just said, we won't
put out a newspaper on this campus, we will go off campus. And we did and we
put out one. We called it the Velvet Hammer. It didn't succeed very long. We
had to accede and go back, but that's all arm wrestling.
The university was growing, and this was about the middle of all the Vietnam War
and all of the racial conflict and everything else that was going on. The last thing
that was needed on this campus was a publication to flare up. It was ready to
just burst. [I'm going to read something that was] authored February 20, 1970.
[This is] my resignation as temporary chairman of the Board of Student
Publications on the basis that I felt it was no longer tenable for a university to try
to exercise any kind of control over a student newspaper in the light of that
opinion that [it] could be much more far reaching and further in light of the very
strong state law of Florida. [The law stated] that a president was responsible for
everything that took place on campus. He couldn't dodge it, he had to accept
responsibility. He had a federal court ruling and another jurisdiction which didn't
apply, but could have applied, that said just the opposite: you can't control the
publication. I said that this board is a farce, it's meaningless. [I said,] it's
responsible to you, you appoint it. I said, furthermore and quite respectfully, sir, I
handed him my letter, it's difficult for me to be chairman of the board. I did not
feel it's best to exist. I outlined in this letter four different plans for independence.
I also outlined in the letter, if he did not choose to make it independent, four
different plans for the way the Board of Student Publications could be continued.
After receiving this letter from me in February of 1970, I want to emphasize that
this was a year and half before Ron Sachs ever published his abortion flyer, but it
started with this letter, President O'Connell called Paul Jones, who had then
become dean. Rae Weimer was one of his administrative assistants by then. He
had retired as dean and was working in the president's office. [He] took me into
his office and said, what are we going to do?
W: Was President O'Connell aware, before your wrote the letter, of the position he
C: President O'Connell, not unlike any president before or after him, didn't
appreciate the fierce independence of the Florida Alligator. I'll tell you the main
reason why, and it's true. I went with Reitz, I went, later, with O'Connell. Any
time you go to the legislature and you walk the halls and talk with people, they
[ask,] what are you going to do about the Alligator over there on your campus?
There was never a governor who ever satisfied the Alligator. There was no
legislator [who satisfied the Alligator]. [laughing] That was okay, it really didn't
matter. Their skins were sort of tender, but they just couldn't stand these strong
editorials being written against them. Of course, the Alligator was always against
the administration of the university. I say always, [but I mean] almost always.
One of the reasons for it was. and I contend in all of this discussion and contend
now that it's true, the reason they were so anti-university administration was
simply to show they could be. You know, twenty/twenty-one year old fellows
running a student newspaper and [they say], we ought to send somebody over
there in Tigert Hall, we'll show them. See what I mean? That's what's wrong
with a system; that's what I'm pointing out here. The university, as the defender
of truth, was championing a lie. [They were] giving independence, an unreal
independence and an independence that was really a lie, to a group of students
who had an independence at nineteen, twenty, and twenty-one years of age that
the editor of the New York Times didn't even have. The New York Times was
subject not to general control, the New York Times' editor is subject to absolute
control of the publisher. If you don't believe that's so, look what happened to
them on that recent thing [the Jayson Blair incident] Within weeks, he was gone.
You see? But that couldn't exist when the Alligator was on campus. Well, it
could by removal; at that point it could. That was just an untenable position.
Again, I guess, I just felt so strongly about what had happened to [David]
Lawrence and to [Ben] Cason. [It was] not under my watch. I just didn't want that
to happen again. That was the only sort of restraint that was possible.
W: I'm sorry, I interrupted you earlier. You were in O'Connell's office.
C: Yes, you see, O'Connell had been Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for the
state of Florida. O'Connell was the most legalistic man I have ever known. I say
that complimentary. I'll tell you how legalistic he was. He belonged to a service
club that met downtown. He considered that to be a part of his duty. He had a
state car. He wouldn't run anything but a Chevrolet, but he had a state car. He
would go to Kiwanis Club or Rotary or something, I've forgotten now -
[End side Al]
C: If O'Connell had personal business after going on state business in his car, he
would return the car to campus and pick up his personal car. He wouldn't burn a
drop of gasoline. That's how legalistic he was. So here he was, caught, and
that's a legal trap. He knew the power of the federal court system. He knew it
better than anybody around. So he recognized this. As a matter of fact, I didn't
know the man very well. I maybe had one meeting with him when he asked me if
I would take the [position of the] chair of the board. Maybe I didn't even do that.
I don't suppose I ever met with him independently, it may have been that it was
transmitted to me by Weimer when I took it. At any rate, yes, he was very well
aware. It was that that I used as a way to get the point in this letter to him. [I said
that,] as chairman of the board, I feel that this is timely in the light of the recent
resignation of the editorial advisor to the publications and in light of the federal
court ruling on the censorship of college newspapers. "I have always felt, and
the recent federal court ruling adds to my conviction," I'm reading now in this
letter, "that college newspapers are totally unrealistic institutions. It is, in itself,
an untruth fostered by an institution dedicated to a search for the truth."
We met then, and we talked about the College of Journalism taking over the
publication of the Alligator and publishing another newspaper, and somehow the
college doing it. Well, if that had been the solution, then it would have been me
who would have done that. That was my position on the faculty, I was the hands-
on man. I was already hands-on in [teaching at] the Gainesville Sun, which
stood just two days [and sometimes four days] a week. In my tenure that I'd had
out in Texas, I worked with students in [Sam Houston State Teachers College].
One of my editors was a fellow named Dan Rather [CBS news anchor]. So I
knew how to work with students in putting out newspapers and letting them keep
their independence realistically. But it was decided, we'll not pursue that [at UF].
Well, then everything just started happening on campus. We had student
demonstrations, we had Vietnam demonstrations, we had racial demonstrations,
and it was just there. This was, again, in February of 1970. So nothing
happened, and then, in 1971, in the fall, when Ron Sachs published this thing,
after he had been advised not to do it, not told that he couldn't but advised not to
do it, that left O'Connell with only one alternative on the basis of precedent, and
that was to fire the editor. He didn't want to do that. He became very upset with
me for resigning from the board. By that time I had met with him maybe two or
three times. Again, [I] wasn't close [with him] at all.
I remember one night, I don't remember why I even went, there was an affair at
the president's house and I happened to be there. He used to try to have every
college come to his house for something. So I remember that night he jumped
me pretty hard in front of some people. It kind of upset me. [He said something
like,] that's the rascal left me holding the bag over student publications.
At any rate, he tried two or three methods of making the Alligator independent.
He turned the problem over to the then Board of Student Publications. They
continued to come up with some solutions and they simply couldn't come up with
a solution. The three or four solutions that he felt were attainable, he took to the
Board of Regents and they wouldn't accept [them]. This publication was from
1971, wasn't it?
W: The flyer was in October of 1971.
C: So in 1972, it was a year later, after he had done some of these things, he got on
the phone one day and he asked me to come to his office. I guess that was the
first time I had ever been alone with President O'Connell. He called me over to
his office and he said, I want you to come over and visit me. I wasn't involved in
any of these things that were being done. I had my hands full by that time. The
program at the Gainesville Sun had grown so that, where in past years my
students took over the desk work at the Sun one day a week and were reporters
one day, each class meeting two days a week, by this time the program had two
sections. So I was at the Gainesville Sun four days a week. I wasn't even at
campus. I wasn't concerned about what was going on in Student Publications
and didn't care. It was my own toy I played with. By the way, it had never been
done before and it hasn't been done since that time. It's absolutely the best
journalism education a student can get while he's in school, being able to have
hands-on [experience]. A lot of universities sponsor newspapers, but not a
commercial newspaper. But he [O'Connell] called me in one day and he said,
okay, Cunningham, can you get this done? He handed me the letter that I had
written him in 1970. Wait a minute. Back up. I left something [out]. I forgot a very
important something that I've tried to erase from my brain. It must have been in
spring of 1972, right after the sex thing. He finally had a plan, and that was to put
the Alligator under control of a board that he no longer had control over. It was a
voluntary board. It was begun initially by a group of people who assembled as
volunteers, and then from that point on the board would be self-perpetuating. It
was comprised of five faculty members and four students. The first one was to
be generated by a calling for volunteers. I know the College of Journalism was to
select one and one for [the] law [school could select one] and then so and so and
so. The dean of the college asked me if I would serve as chairman of that board.
I don't remember whether the dean or O'Connell himself asked me. I agreed.
He said, okay, now the university is going to assist this group by having its
attorneys draw up a constitution of this particular board, what its duties are and
what its role [is], how it was going to be self-perpetuated and subject to that. I
accepted. I volunteered. A fellow named Jim Quarls [was] a very distinguished
and able member of the faculty of the college of law. I had never known him but I
knew of him. We kept pushing for these articles of incorporation. [We'd hear,]
well, they're not quite ready. This first big meeting was to be held [and] by this
time the plight of the Alligator had gained statewide attention, certainly from the
press of Florida. So we scheduled a meeting to begin this great experiment and
assembled in a meeting hall over in Reitz Union. Well, I got there a little bit early
and so did Jim Quarls. That's when we first saw the papers [of incorporation].
We were told that they would be there an hour early or something. So we got
there and began to read them. I could see him furrowing his brow and I was
furrowing mine. I didn't understand all the gobbledy-goop, but I said to him, does
this thing mean to you, Professor Quarls, what it means to me; that you and I are
going to be personally held responsible for any libel? He said, that's exactly what
it means. I said, I can't do that and I can't subject myself and my family to that. I
won't do it. He said, I won't either.
By this time the place had assembled a crowd. I mean, everyone was there to
see this great unveiling. There were all kinds of reporters from papers holding
this thing down. So I opened the meeting by saying something to the effect [of],
we're assembled to do this, however, the secretary, the lawyer was to be the
secretary and the journalist the chairman, and I cannot serve on this board.
Therefore, I can't call the meeting to order. You haven't got a chairman, so if
anybody here wants to be chairman of this board and call a meeting in order,
that's your privilege. There was quite a buzz, [with people wondering] what's
going on here? So we told them why. He, Quarls took the lead and told them
what it amounted to. So the other faculty members in the room, they began to
say, I'm not willing to do that. [We wondered,] what are we going to do? I [asked]
the people, what do you folks want to do? We haven't called the meeting to
order, therefore, I can't call for votes. Then, somebody said, well, you can have
a straw vote. I said, okay, let's have a straw vote. What are we going to vote
on? Well, [let's vote on] whether or not to incorporate this board. So we had a
straw vote. It was either five to four or four to three. I forget the composition. At
any rate, there was one more faculty, and all the faculty members voted no. All
of the students voted yes. So that was a board meeting. It was killed.
It was after that time that I went to O'Connell's house and he really jumped me.
But then, early in the fall, I think it was October of 1972, he called me in and
asked me. I said, well, you let me handpick a very, very small group and let me
set a deadline, and we'll bring you a plan. I don't know why I said that. He said,
fine. I actually took five people who had been on this [aforementioned] board.
Gerald Shaffer [was on the board], who was associate vice president of
administrative affairs and later became the vice president and served for many
years. A former member of the staff of the Gainesville Sun, who was then a
lawyer in Gainesville, [was on the board]. The publisher of the High Springs
Herald and a student [were also on the board]. The five of us spent every bit of
time any of us had. I was still working four days a week putting out the
newspaper, [the Gainesville] Sun, with students. We worked through the
Christmas holidays. We worked under the lights of Christmas trees and every
By this time there was a strong sentiment that it was an independent
Alligator of some sort. To get its independence from the university was
the best way to go. We set up what we considered were some guidelines. By
the way, do you have a copy of that report? This is the document that sets the
[guidelines]. Do you have that?
W: I believe I do, sir.
C: Okay, that's the critical document. That's the one. [It was in] January of 1973.
We had a bunch of hearings. We had a series of public hearings. We said,
okay, since there [are] so many who are interested in this and there are different
ways to go, we'll just open it up. [We asked,] who wants to operate any
independent Florida Alligator separate from the campus, a nonprofit thing? We
got three proposals. So that's what we did. We looked at the three proposals
and studied them carefully and then negotiated with the one that we thought was
the best to bring it into what we thought was the best way to go. That's how it
became independent. There was opposition, basically, from an editor, a fellow
named Randy Bellows. Randy had not had a course with me. By the way, Ron
Sachs was a student of mine. [He was] one of the best I ever had, super.
W: Was he a student before or after?
C: [Ron Sachs] was a student afterwardss. Randy had not [been a student]. He
was kind of young. I think he was only a sophomore or something like that. He
edited the paper. He and I debated. We had public debates, we were on the
radio, over the wisdom of such a thing. A little interesting sidelight, last year
Randy Bellows was inducted as a member of the Alligator Hall of Fame. Randy
and I had been in communication a few times as a personal thing. We became
close during this time. So after things, I went up to Randy and I said, you know,
you're my champion liberal, you have been from the very time we had debates
and through all that time. [You] are a liberal with whom I can really enjoy. We
have our differences and then come away and sit down. I said, I hope that's
remained. He said, well, I'm afraid it hasn't remained since I'm no longer liberal.
He told me he'd been a Republican for, I don't know how many, years and was
and was now extremely conservative. [laughing] I thought that was a sort of
I was convinced, and I just may possibly have been the only person on this
campus who was convinced [the independent Alligator] would succeed. By the
way, I went before the University of Florida faculty. O'Connell called a faculty
meeting to put the plan in and the senate didn't back him up. So he asked me if I
would address the senate at another called meeting, which I did. The senate
then changed its course. That talk I gave, I've got a copy of it here. I simply
presented it on the basis of what I've already related here. [I said] that here was
an institution fostering an independence on the part of a twenty [or] twenty-one
year old student, to be editor, and completely unbridled of a publication, which,
after he'd gotten out of school, he'd never run again the rest of his life anywhere.
The point I made was, if the university wants to lead the way in [adopting] the
same [system so] that the government of the United States of America would
permit a person to become editor of the New York Times without any
infringement on his editing, then the university ought to consider [it]. But if not,
then they ought not to. [The senate accepted my argument and voted to endorse
the plan.] There's an argument [from] the senate that's perfectly logical, but I felt
it would succeed. The reason I knew it would succeed, and I studied the thing
over the years, the only thing really that the Alligator was getting was the use of
some office space. Long since, its advertising [had] taken care of all its
expenses, and it no longer needed any of the student fee money. They hadn't
for years. The student fee money was pouring down the rat hole of the annual
for one thing. That never amounted to a hill of beans. I had a solution for that,
too. That's never been a topic, and someday I hope it will [be] somewhere to
somebody. I felt [the Alligator] could succeed, but, in case it didn't succeed, I
was asked to propose a back-stop. My back-stop was for the college to take it
over, which the dean at that time had agreed to. But I knew it would never have
to, that it could make it on its own. It had to have a start, and it also had to have
some guaranteed, up-front revenue.
It was exactly the same thing that we're finding about what to do about [getting ]
airlines for the city of Gainesville. Right now, the only way that we can bring an
airline in to the city of Gainesville is to give them a guarantee of so much
business. I dreamed up this idea that the University of Florida had never really
had any sort of a way of communicating with its faculty or even with its students.
They didn't have it, and needed it. The corporate world has what they call
employee publications. They have their own publications to spread their vast
knowledge and propaganda in an enterprising institution, and the university didn't
have it. So the Alligator would be a good way to do it. One of the ways they
could guarantee that was to enter into an up-front proposition by [the university
buying] space. It worked out.
This may be one little irregularity that might be considered shady. I sat down
with the help of Gerald Shaffer, who was a figure as a man. He and I figured out
kind of a budget for them, what it was going to take. We wanted to make sure
that advertising revenue that we were going to give them through the purchase of
the university space, would be enough to go along with their commercial
advertising to ensure their soundness. In order to do that, we were going to have
to pay more than the discounted rate that would have applied because of the
volume of space we were going to buy, under the schedule of advertising rates
the Alligator had. We said, okay, the university will agree to buy so much space
a year not discounted. That was one thing. Then, we could not give them any
money, it was to be a separate, nonprofit, off-campus institution. It could not give
them any money. So we did two things. We rented them some space to
continue their operation as an independent [newspaper] in the Florida Union for a
$1 year. [That's] the same way we rent space to banks to put ATMs [automated
teller machines] over there. Everything was done totally within [legal
parameters]. We had a vice president for administrative affairs at this time name
Bill Elmore; [we had] Shaffer, who was his associate; then we had an attorney
named Tom Biggs; and then, of course, it was O'Connell who was president. [We
had those who were] legalistic and un-legalistic. We were determined that it was
going to be by the book [and] the only debt we might have made was this other
one, but it was still legal.
So we rented the space to them, and then we let them take all accounts
receivable and let it build up so that, by the time it was cut loose, they could go
out and collect that and they would have start-up cash. That's how it enabled
them to get a start. I guess, from the beginning it was pretty rocky. They didn't
have the best place. What did they say, they were in a meat locker or
W: Yes [laughing].
C: Whatever, it wasn't too bad. The fact of the business [is that] they had more floor
space than they had in the [Student] Union. Student government was always on
their tail in the Union anyway. I mean, actually, the Alligator became, to a certain
extent, more subservient to student government than it did to the administration
at the university because it didn't want anything to do with student government
either. It wasn't just the administration, they were always needling them. So
that's how it came to be.
W: I've read a couple of the old articles, and Randy Bellows was concerned with
independence as far as putting the financially-shaky Alligator out there. What do
you think about that? Obviously, it has survived.
C: He was concerned about the future of the Alligator. They didn't think they could
survive if they had to make it on their own. The last thing they wanted to happen,
of course, was for the college to take it over. I mean, it was just a matter of
economics. It's like it is today. Is our economy improving, it is digressing, or is it
stable? Who knows? Who can predict these things? I stuck my neck out on all
the evidence that the Alligator can succeed. It's not going to be easy, but it can
succeed. If so, it's going to be better for it, and certainly it's going to be better for
W: What did President O'Connell think about the Alligator becoming independent
C: What did he think?
C: He was the most delighted human being there ever was. [laughing] As a matter
of fact, I want to tell you what he thought of it, much to my delight or disdain, I
don't know which to this day. You be the judge.
During this time, we had all this foment on campus that had been going on, the
university was getting terribly bad press. The University of Florida didn't have
any sort of a system to defend itself against a public onslaught. We had what
you call a news bureau. That was located way over in the middle of the campus
and people are sitting there cranking out stuff on the mimeograph machine,
sending it on to newspapers, nobody ever using it. So during all of this mess,
President O'Connell became convinced that the [university] needed a director of
university information who reported directly next to him, in the office next to him.
He came to the conclusion that this was the only way he would be able to handle
this thing and be more responsive. Up until that time, like the [U.S.] President,
he didn't have the time. He really didn't know how to handle the press. He
appointed the committee to conduct a national search to bring in this person. He
asked me to serve on the committee, I guess, because I had done this other
work. He thought, well, there's a fellow who will work at something. So I served
on the committee. At the same time, he asked me to serve on another
committee. That was one to find a full-time vice president for development.
They didn't have one. [They needed] somebody who would go out and shake the
bushes to get money. Those two things, he was determined before he stepped
down as president, he was going to have.
So on this committee search for a director of the university information, we met
several times and we brought in several candidates. We thought we were quite
good, and one day he asked me to come over to his office. I went over. He said,
I've come to a conclusion that you're the person we need in that job. He said, it
needs two things. It needs somebody who knows this campus and it needs
somebody who has [the] respect [of Florida newspapers]. He said, there's only
one person. I was the liaison between the College of Journalism and the
newspapers of Florida. That was my job; I hadn't applied for that job. When he
approached, he said, you're going to be it. Well, I tell you that story only to say
that I think he was so satisfied with what this committee had done that it attracted
his attention to me. I guess somebody had wanted the office next to him. That's
best to answer your question, "what did he think of it?" He must have thought
pretty highly of it.
W: He was happy that it would survive financially? He was accused by some of
these newspapers of hoping it would fail. You don't think that's true?
C: [Are you talking about] O'Connell?
W: Yes, he was accused of hoping the Alligator would fail when it went independent.
C: That wasn't true. See, a lot of that was brought about by my liberal fellow
members of the faculty in the College of Journalism. I'm a conservative; most of
these people are liberal. [They thought] anything a conservative man like
O'Connell ever did was wrong, no matter what he thought. They were hoping it
failed so it would be put into the College of Journalism. That was never an
answer. It was discussed, but it was never [a solution]. I'll tell you the last guy
who wanted it. Who do you think that would be?
W: Is that President O'Connell?
C: No, it was me, because I knew that it would be forced on me. If the Alligator ever
became part of the College of Journalism, I'd be done. Do you think I'd trade my
spot for an opportunity to run students on a Gainesville Daily Sun? Do you see
the hole in that argument? A lot of people would say, that's what Cunningham
was after. I mean, it's idiotic. It's totally idiotic. I don't know whether or not I
would have stayed at the University of Florida as a faculty member. I probably
would not [have stayed], because I was offered the editorship of the Independent
in St. Petersburg and the Sun Sentinel in Ft. Lauderdale. Both of these offers
came to me and I declined them, but if I had to be in charge of the Alligator as it
led to a publication, I wouldn't have stayed.
In fact, you see, it's the greatest thing that ever happened to me, but that's why I
was fired at this institution [in Texas] while Dan Rather was editor. The
administration at that university came in and directed me to have the editor do
exactly as they would tell him. I refused, so I was fired. Well, I didn't want to go
through that again. I knew you could run that sort of thing, but then you're
directly, too, in the hands of a president who [it] wouldn't make any difference to
him whether he was on your side or not. In order to save his skin, you would
have to go. That was never, never so.
Maybe he [O'Connell] doubted, he probably did doubt. As I say, I think I was
about the only one around here who had any bit of confidence that it would work.
Ed Barber really thought it would work. Ed is a man of high principle. Ed didn't
want to be a part of the beginning of the Independent Florida Alligator because
he had been a part of it when it was still on campus. It was in the second go-
around that he [became publisher]. [The first one was Tony Kindzion.] Have you
W: No, I haven't. I've only read about him.
C: Yes, well, Tony ought to be interviewed on this. There is another thing, what did
he think about it and what did O'Connell think of the Independent [Florida
Alligator]. About three years ago, the Blue Key Banquet dedicated itself, instead
of a speaker, to the memory of Stephen C. O'Connell, about a year before he
died. The program was to have, I believe it was, five speakers give three to four
minute sketches of the things that O'Connell thought were his most important
accomplishments at the University of Florida. I believe it was five things. One of
them was the independence of the Alligator, so I made that presentation. I
suppose that's about as much information as I can give you to what you consider
to be important.
W: You mentioned that he didn't want to fire Ron Sachs. Why was that? It had
been precedent before, firing editors.
C: I can't tell you; I don't know his mind. I would say that, in light of the times, when
he was the butt of all this racial unrest and the university was the butt of all the
Vietnam unrest, well, the last thing he wanted was another unrest from the
student body on firing the editor of the newspaper. From a practical point of
view, I mean, he knew, but we never discussed it.
[End side A2]
C: O'Connell was accused of being an autocratic man, but it was a false accusation.
I learned that after I worked with him for six months. He was a strong leader.
As a judge and chief justice of the [Florida] Supreme Court, he could afford to be
autocratic, but he wasn't. He begged for input from his faculty more than any
other president I think we've ever had, except maybe this Charles Young [1999-
2003]. His legalism didn't want him to be a dictator and an autocrat. That, to me,
was what I think it was. I know, I served on several committees. [I served on the]
Professional Standards and Relations Committee while he was president, in
which he just begged us to come up with a code of ethics for the faculty. He
didn't want to establish it. We worked hard on this. I [also served on the
committee to find a vice-president for] development on that committee, which
completely changed this institution. Before that, the director of development and
the [University of Florida] Foundation was established, this university was pulling
in $2 and $3 million a year from private sources. Now it's a $100 million maybe a
year. That's how much change has been made.
He brought that about in a very democratic process. He used some autocracy to
change the whole attitude of the [Florida] Alumni Association. The Alumni
Association had been a very self-serving organization, and he changed it in a
year's time to serve the university. I worked for [O'Connell] in six months. So he
wasn't my man, nor was I his man. I told him when I went in there [that] if he's
looking for a hatchet man, he hadn't found it in me. A flack, that was the word I
gave to him. So he knew better. I told him when I sat in and he came in the
office next to his executive vice president, [E.T. York]. I said, there are going to
be two phones on my desk. One of them is going to be the AP [Associated
Press] and one is the UP [United Press]. In the first trouble we have on this
campus, I'm going to have one on each ear. I'm going to let them know, the first
thing they're going to know about it is going to be from us. It worked. It
completely redid the way this university was responding to the public. Simply,
the best defense is to go on the offense.
W: I guess my last question is, because you were an educator and you had a lot of
these editors and people who worked at the Alligator as students, what is the
difference between a student who works at the Alligator and a journalism student
who doesn't? A majority of students don't work for the Alligator who are
journalism students. Do you have any idea why that is?
C: During the time I was on the faculty and we ran the program at the Gainesville
Sun, the best educated journalists in America, and [they are] all up and down the
Eastern seaboard, they will tell you is a graduate of the University of Florida who
had Alligator experience. If he didn't have the Alligator experience, it wasn't the
same thing. That's how important we were. That's why, to me, it was so
important. To me, the Alligator augmented my role as an educator. I worked
extremely hard, hoping always that these fellows-and it's mostly fellows-who
were going to be editor of the Alligator would have completed my course at the
Sun. It made them better editors at the Alligator. I'm not sure the Alligator is as
good a newspaper as it once was.
W: Do you still read it?
C: No, I don't. I don't find that they cover the campus at all, do you? They attempt
to cover the city, [but] the students are not that interested in the city. They don't
W: For me, [it was] the heyday; the 1970s had some amazing papers. I like the
1970s, those are great papers.
C: Yes, that's the point. It was a great newspaper. I will say this, I continued to be
the teacher of [Alligator editors] [Jim] Seale, [David] Smith, [Ron] Cunningham,
[Tom] Shroder, [and] [Brian] Jones while I sat in the president's office. And
virtually every person who was ever editor of the Alligator through those years
had Tigert Hall as his beat as a reporter. They would come and pick my brain,
particularly on the big thing that was always hard for them to understand. That's
the budget of this university. It's hard, and I don't think I ever understood it. I
spent twelve years trying to explain it, and I'm not even sure I ever understood it.
This is a complicated system. We are really three universities, possibly three
and a half universities. We are health, which is a totally separate budget entity
and everything; agriculture [has a] totally separate budget and everything; [and
then there's] the rest of the university. But the law [school] gets [a] separate
[budget] from the rest of the university. It's a part of the rest, but it's separate
and unequal. It is the private sector of it, the part that's being run by the funds
that don't come from the state, which is amounting to more than half now. So it's
a very, very complicated system. I had almost daily contact with the editors.
They would come to get information. Well, all you've got to do is look and see
what's happening to them [the Alligator]. They're out there in great number. Of
course, you didn't get to the be the editor of the Alligator unless you were an
outstanding student in the first place. So it's not that the Alligator made them
that, but it was the icing on the cake.
W: Well, sir, is there anything else that we haven't covered that you would like to
C: No, I don't think so. Some day, as I said at the beginning, and I've got to run,
somebody ought to put an equal amount of time on other student publications.
It's interesting too.
W: Thank you very much, sir.