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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

The Fix Was In

The new president of USF may turn out to be a great guy, but our community certainly did not get a chance to put our seal of approval on him.  The finalists, recruited by a private company, were announced on Monday, and on Friday, the Board of Trustees announced their choice – the only candidate among just four finalists whose credentials came even close to a reasonable resume for the presidency of a major university. 


Some civic leaders took offense at the lack of Florida's Sunshine policies with this quick insider deal, and the Times sputtered about reopening the search, but within a few days, all was said and done.  I don't care as much as I would have in the past; Hubby and I are firmly retired from teaching, and as long as no one messes with our library privileges, I can let it go.  But as a refresher civics lesson, I want to compare USF with HCC.


When Governor Lawton Chiles appointed me to the Board of Trustees for Hillsborough Community College in 1996, that institution had a decades-old reputation for administrative corruption.  Friends on the faculty convinced me to ask the governor for the appointment because they – correctly – saw the five-campus college had much more potential than the president permitted.  His gang of thieves in their tower on Davis Island not only ripped off the college, but also made life miserable for many good professors. 


The president and his buddies were accustomed to a board that rubber-stamped their decisions – even to the point that they once put the sale of the Ybor campus on the consent agenda.  Yes, the consent agenda!  Where it would be adopted at the beginning of the meeting, along with other housekeeping details that we trustees were not supposed to notice. After struggling with her conscience, the president of that campus alerted me to this with a call from her home to mine.  I am forever grateful, as that marked the beginning of the end of insider dealing.  Without violating Sunshine laws that did not allow trustees to talk with each other, we managed to make it clear in open meetings that we wanted a new leader. 


In less than a year, Board Chairwoman Mary Ann Stiles presented a contract in which the president agreed to resign, and the other four of us – the late Sam Marotta, Warren Dawson, John Dicks, and I – gratefully accepted.  And this is where the analogy to USF's recent search is relevant:  Instead of hiring a private search consultancy, we asked the American Association of Community Colleges to send us candidates for a temporary president, while we took our time about finding the permanent replacement.


They sent Dr. Jeff Hockaday, former chancellor of the North Carolina system, and he led a year-long series of meetings with the faculty, students, business leaders, and anyone who wanted to comment.  Under the wide umbrella of what characteristics a new president should have, people vented their frustrations about the past and prepared for a different future.  There may be few frustrations at USF, but I know a couple of faculty members who would disagree – and who got no opportunity to say so.


In contrast to USF's private, out-of-state consultants, we appointed a search committee at HCC that was of and by that community.  I named Dorothy Iorio, a librarian at the Brandon campus (and yes, mother of the future mayor), and Liana Fox, who taught math at the Ybor campus and was active in many organizations.  Other board members appointed non-faculty folks, but all members of the search committee were Hillsborough County residents and all meetings were open.  We ended up with six finalists, all of whom visited here and met with many people.  The result was that we got the late, great Gwen Stephenson, who completely turned the college around.  I would hesitate to volunteer so much time again, but it was worth it in the end.  Sunshine, openness, and collegial decision-making – that is the way taxpayer-funded institutions should operate.


"Whither Thou Goest"


Hubby and I recently were watching an old movie (thank you, Turner Classics!), when that phrase was used.  In a rather trite scene, a woman promised to marry a man even though he had decided to become a Methodist minister instead of practicing medicine.  Hubby's father was a Methodist minister (a large part of the reason we were watching it), so I was surprised that he knew "whither thou goest" only in its usage for marriage between heterosexuals.  In case you have been similarly misled, it's not.


The story is in the first chapter of the Old Testament Book of Ruth, which is only four chapters long.  It tells of how Naomi, her husband, and two sons left Bethlehem during famine for the country of Moab.  The sons grew up, married women of Moab, and in time, all the men died.  Naomi determined that she would return to Bethlehem, but urged her daughters-in-law to remain in their native land.  Both at first insisted that they would go with her, but after a while, Orpah decided to stay.  Then, in direct quotes:


         "And she [Naomi] said, 'Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods; return thou after thy sister in law.'

         "And Ruth said, 'Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.'"


So the lesson is not about marriage at all, or even relationships between men and women.  It is about matriarchy.  It is about the power of mothers and especially mothers-in-law.  That is an old Middle Eastern and Asian tradition:  at marriage, the bride moves in with her husband's family, and his mother rules the roost.  That still is the case in much of Asia, where daughters-in-law are routinely abused -- and even killed if the husband's family decides to do that.  Naomi thus was unusual in giving her daughters-in-law their freedom, instead of expecting them to accompany her and provide for her.  She was extremely unusual in telling them to go back to their old gods, instead of insisting on the Judaic God.  Nor is there any biblical condemnation of her liberalism.


You'll be glad to know that Naomi and Ruth got to Bethlehem "in the beginning of the barley harvest."  And I included Orpah because that name brings back a memory of my teenage years in Arkansas.  Orpah Gideon had met her husband, Joe, in a tuberculosis hospital.  They couldn't have children, so they showered us kids with attention – hayrides, drive-in movies, all the things our parents couldn't afford with either time or money. 

And Moab – that's an area of Jordan on the edge of the Dead Sea.  Not surprisingly, the internet first turned up places I could go in Moab, Utah.  But it didn't explain why the Mormon settlers of Utah honored this presumably polytheistic place.  Maybe because they were polygamists?  I don't think so, but it's another point to ponder.


Thanks, Jim Beam!


Hubby brought home a bottle labeled "Jim Beam Repeal Batch – Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey" and with it, a little history lesson.  This "repeal batch" recipe replicates that of early 1934.  A side label tells us that Prohibition was repealed on December 5, 1933, and the family of James B. Beam rebuilt their distillery within the next 120 days.  This year thus marks the 85th anniversary of the new distillery – but the Beam family had been making whiskey since 1795.  That was the year after the end of the Whiskey Rebellion, which occurred early in the administration of President George Washington.  Then as now, people didn't want to pay taxes, and Washington sent troops to put down a frontier rebellion against a federal tax on whiskey. 

And yes, Americans in the 1600s and 1700s drank – a lot.  The organized movement against alcohol began in the 1870s, after the Civil War added to the number of alcoholics the nation already had.  Although women were involved in the movement to ban liquor, it was almost entirely male legislators who ratified the 18th Amendment that created Prohibition – prior to the 19th Amendment that granted the vote to women everywhere.


Prohibition was, of course, hypocrisy writ large.  Upper-class men who drank continued to drink:  they intended only that their workers (and all people of color) not be able to do so.  Many of those workers were immigrants for whom alcohol was part of daily life:  think Germans and beer, Italians and wine, Irish and whiskey.  The predictable result was widespread disobedience of the law, as well as rackets for organized crime.  This was the era of Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, and other notorious gangsters.


The ban lasted from January of 1919 to December 1933, and for 12 of those 14 years, Republicans held the White House.  The first, elected in 1920, was Warren Harding, who was well known for drinking.  His successors, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, were less hypocritical, but neither tried to repeal Prohibition, as it had become the backbone of their largely Protestant party.  Especially after Democrats nominated Al Smith, a Catholic, in 1928, religion mixed with alcohol in a partisan way. 


It was the Great Depression, though, which began late in 1928, that sealed Prohibition's fate.  The November 1932 election was a landslide for Democrats; Franklin Roosevelt took office in March 1933; and a constitutional amendment to repeal the 18th Amendment worked its way through Congress and state legislatures that ended Prohibition with the end of 1933.  Jim Beam went back into business, but I think fewer people drank it straight.


Cocktails became popular during the Roaring Twenties, as people disguised their alcohol with mixers.  I'd never thought of this before, but cocktails also might have arisen to appeal to new female drinkers.  With the vote and many other kinds of liberation in that era, flappers probably drove the drink innovations.  Many of the taboos prior to World War I had disappeared, and given that alcohol was illegal for both men and women, why not join the party?




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