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USF Thirty Years Ago

1973: What a year it was. A quick look through the newspapers reveals an America wracked by problems internal and international. South Vietnam floundered without U.S. troops, the Yom Kippur War prompted an oil embargo from the Arab world and the presidency sank to a new public low with the Watergate scandal. The tremors of controversy abounded at USF as well, with a confrontational student body and reactionary administration. The Oracle was there all along, publishing provocative investigative reporting and embarrassing the administration and Student Government with equal fervor.

The Oracle didn’t always have to find the news. Occasionally, it came to them. Several workers from the Physical Plant came forward with complaints about unfair treatment early in the year. The few initial allegations swelled into a growing chorus of discord that became impossible for President Mackey to ignore. Allegedly, the plant falsified work records for more than 10 years, used unfair hiring and disciplinary practices and was riddled with corrupt administrators and foremen. Mackey allowed the Physical Plant to conduct the investigation at first, but as the allegations grew, he outsourced the job to a firm called Internal Control to conduct an audit of the department. In the end, the findings supported worker complaints, but leadership suspended many of them for minor infractions in retaliation.

Even bigger controversies surrounded the University Police, formed five years before from a security force. Students and faculty complained that UP Chief Jack Prehle used heavy-handed methods while enforcing the law, resulting in mass arrests of students. When The Oracle conducted a poll to gauge student feeling toward the UP, police prevented the paper’s delivery the next day. The UP ordered a background investigation of Oracle editor Robert Fiallo (who now works in USF’s Office of Community Relations), although he was not charged with any crime. At the same time, the UP employed a habitual felon.

To make matters worse, UP officers interrupted David VanderCarr’s psychology lecture in search of a student with a warrant out for his arrest. When VanderCarr complained about the interruption, he was plagued by harassment from the UP for months. As a result of all the controversy, administration forced Prehle from his position.

The day after the great artist Pablo Picasso died (April 9), the Board of Regents approved the construction of his monumental concrete sculpture “Bust of a Woman,” what would have been the largest Picasso in the world. At more than 100 feet tall and 1.5 million pounds, the hulk would tower over the surrounding buildings in the Fine Arts area. University boosters thought the Picasso would be a boon to USF’s reputation, but many thought it would be an enormous eyesore. A three-month fund-raising campaign to collect the quarter-million dollar construction costs fizzled, forcing administration to shelve the project.

Cinema presented its own complications in 1973. The display of several risqué films drew fire from USF faculty. The infamous pornographic film Deep Throat and Andy Warhol’s Trash prompted a debate in Student Government and the administration. Both eventually agreed that the films should be allowed on campus. But when a marijuana advocacy group scheduled a screening of Reefer Madness at USF, administrators balked. Past screenings became opportunities for dope smokers to collectively light up, and the UP claimed that it would not be able to effectively police the event. The activists eventually held the screening at Centro Asturiano’s theater in Ybor City.

Reefer Madness was not the only thing banned from campus. Administration prohibited electrically amplified concerts after a disastrous festival in 1970 that ended in a near-riot. A power play between students and the administration resulted in a chaotic scuffle between hippies and police that included violence, arrests, and fire bombs. Unwilling to repeat the experience, administration banned “electric” rock concerts. Student Government finally obtained permission for a concert in July 1973, appropriately headlined by a band called The Outlaws.

Not even a tumultuous year like 1973 could stunt USF’s growth or squash its traditions. The Board of Regents approved new USF campuses in Ft. Meyers and Sarasota. When students had a chance to change the mascot, more than half voted to keep the bull. Tampa mayor Dick Greco and Mackey squared off in a judo match to support Physical Fitness Week.

All the growth at USF did present some problems. Parking has proven to be the most persistent bane to this campus. In 1973, some students formed a secret club called “Phantoms of the Parking Lot.” When members saw a ticketed car on campus, they stole the ticket and threw it away. The resulting confusion exacerbated the parking woes, but one good thing came as a result: the appeals system. Before 1973, all tickets were final. The appeals process was meant to “humanize” parking services. Whether or not it succeeded is largely a matter of perspective.

Looking back, USF’s ordeals in 1973 reflected the mounting anxiety across the country. But like the nation, the university survived amid all the troubles. Many problems have been solved. Many others still linger today, such as parking. Faculty watched intently to see if USF president Mackey would approve a collective bargaining agreement between the administration and faculty unions 30 years ago, and that situation persists, too. An optimist must believe that these problems can (and must) be overcome, because the next 30 years will surely present many new challenges.