USF System to Commemorate 50th Anniversary of Dissolution of Florida’s Johns Committee
Documentary screenings at USF and USF St. Petersburg will shed light on the controversial panel and its impact on the early years of USF’s existence.
TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 6, 2015) – Fifty years ago, a controversial state investigative committee threatened the foundation of diversity, inclusion and academic freedom that forms the core of higher education in Florida. Now, to commemorate the anniversary of the committee’s dissolution and the continued triumph of those core values, the University of South Florida System will launch a series of programs for students, faculty and community members that will shed more light on the committee’s impact, history and important lessons learned.
To kick-off the activities, USF will screen two documentaries, 4 p.m. on Nov. 9 at USF St. Petersburg’s University Center Ballroom and at 7 p.m. on Nov. 12 at USF’s Oval Theatre in the Marshall Student Center on the Tampa campus. The films highlight the dark period of Florida’s history during the 1950s and early 1960s that bore the Florida Legislative Investigative Committee, more commonly called “Johns Committee” for its founder Sen. Charley Johns.
Each screening will feature two films, home-produced by State University System colleagues: Behind Closed Doors: The Dark Legacy of the Johns Committee, produced by the Documentary Institute of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications; and Florida’s Purge: The Johns Committee Witch Hunt, produced by the Burnett Honors College Advanced Documentary Filmmaking Workshop at the University of Central Florida. Both events are free and open to the public. Additional activities will be announced throughout the spring semester.
The Johns Committee took up the dubious crusade of eradicating Florida’s universities and schools of those it deemed “subversive,” including homosexuals and suspected Communist-sympathizers. The net effect was an assault on academic freedom at the public universities that existed at the time, including the Florida A&M University, Florida State University, the University of Florida, and a nascent University of South Florida.
The 50th anniversary of this committee’s dissolution provides an opportunity to critically reexamine its impact and, perhaps, its lingering effects, but most importantly to celebrate and reaffirm those values that allow for this kind of freedom of inquiry and discourse to occur.