The University of Florida's Reaction

J. Wayne Reitz The Johns Committee chose the University of Florida in 1958 as its first academic target in hunting down homosexuals on campuses. Many lawmakers had attended U.F., and the committee needed legislative funding to continue its work. At least 15 U.F. professors and more than 50 students left after being interrogated by investigators. Even though the committee's tactics violated state law, U.F. administrators did not attempt to halt the investigations. U.F. President J. Wayne Reitz (photo at left) feared that lack of cooperation would mean decreased funding for the state's largest university. One administrator said, "You can't bite the hand that feeds you."

J. Wayne Reitz and Charley Johns corresponded often during the Johns Committee investigations. The following are excerpts from some of their letters.

January 22, 1959

Dear Senator Johns,

Thank you for your letter of January 19 in which you state that the Florida Legislative Investigating Committee will be able to present me with some evidence in the very near future. This I assure you will be most welcome.

-J. Wayne Reitz

December 12, 1959

Dear Dr. Reitz,

I want you to know that you have my deepest sympathy in having to do all of the dirty work that is done at the University of Florida. First, it was your painful duty to call in those professors, whom we exposed, who you had known for years and have to fire them...Let me congratulate you again, Doctor, on your difficult job and say that I am glad you do not shirk your responsibility. I have told many people that when the "cards were down," Dr. Reitz was not lacking.

-Charley E. Johns

Reitz also responded to letters from the community about the investigations.

May 26, 1959

Dear Mr. Smith,

This will acknowledge your letter in which you express concern over the behavior of certain members of the faculty of the University of Florida...We are taking greater precautions with respect to the screening of staff members in the future. In this connection you might be interested to know that of the 14 staff members dismissed, 12 of them had been on the staff prior to my assuming the presidency.

-J. Wayne Reitz

Investigators The Johns Committee also carried out investigations at Florida State University and the University of South Florida. U.F. has received harsher criticism because the administration cooperated fully with the investigation by allowing members of the university police department to serve as investigators and tape interrogations with professors and students (photo at right).

The American Association of University Professors informed professors of their rights, but those who had something to fear were too afraid to ask for an arrest warrant or subpoena. Either of these would mean that their private lives could be played out for the public to read about in the newspaper.

In a 1972 interview, Charley Johns said he saw the committee as a way to stamp out homosexuality. He said he was particularly disturbed by the number of homosexuals at U.F. "I don't get no love out of hurting people. But that situation in Gainesville, my Lord have mercy. I never saw nothing like it in my life. If we saved one boy from being made homosexual, it was justified."

Copyright 1999 by Allyson A. Beutke
All rights reserved. No original portion of this document may be reproduced without written permission from the author.