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Sunday Conversation: Joseph McAuliffe, former hippie, pastor and history buff, now leads Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at USF

Joseph McAuliffe, 62, has been a hippie, a preacher, a fundraiser for Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcast Network and a campaign worker for both Republicans and Democrats. (His brother, Terry McAuliffe, is former chairman of the Democratic National Committee.) The former pastor of Tampa Covenant Church serves as coordinator of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of South Florida, which teaches noncredit courses to mainly senior citizens on topics ranging from the Renaissance to cooking, with most costing $30 to $60. McAuliffe, who has a master's degree in history and teaches courses to undergraduates as well as lifelong learners, talked with Times staff writer Philip Morgan about Osher and his experiences.

Why is this program so popular?

People are here because they love education, they see the value of education. They understand how important it is to keep their minds active and learning at this stage of their lives. And it's not just a volitional thing, like, "Hey, I should lose weight.'' I frequently say that the DNA of this group is a love for education.

What are the popular classes?

The history classes are our most important classes. Then I would say with that would be the foreign policy, what we call geopolitics.

People love local history. We have partnered with the Tampa Bay History Center, and they are some of the largest classes we've ever done. About three years ago, we partnered a class with the history center on the history of Tampa itself … We had 178 students. A typical class, we have 15 to 25 students.

Both retired USF professors and those who are still working volunteer to teach these adult classes for free. Is it because they have such eager learners?

That's precisely the reason why they teach. It is the reason why we're able to retain volunteer faculty. So I always thank the members of our organization, our student members … They engage the teachers, and I think that unleashes something in the teacher of creativity and gratification. I think they get a satisfaction experience that they never had in all their years of teaching.

Why do people seem more eager to learn as they age than they did when they were in college?

Well, Freud would probably love this answer: I think as we get older, we're not as obsessed with sex, so that these educational interests are able to emerge. It was probably always there; it's just the other thing was drowning it out, our focus and everything. Perhaps it has to do with maturity.

You have been both a Republican and a Democrat. How would you describe your politics now?

To this day, my affinity is with the Democratic Party, which I wish was actually even more Democrat. But that's a whole subject in itself, what's taken place with the corporatization of our political system, really on both sides, just the enormous amount of money that pretty much defines the political system in my mind today, which is so antidemocratic. Because right now I think our government is what I'd liken to a plutocracy, which is really the rule of a monied few.

You worked for the Rev. Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcast Network?

I did that for just about two years. I was doing a lot of traveling with that position. Financially, I was doing absolutely fantastic, but I was gone all the time. I was doing development work with them, which is a nice word for fundraising.

With a lot of the larger donors … I got to know these people real well. When I'd listen to them as they would talk about their lives and their values, it all came back to the family. And if they did have regrets, it was related to not having more time with the family.

I was in San Francisco. I'd just come off a day of talking about the importance of family, and I just wasn't home; I was gone all the time … I took an 80 percent pay cut to come here, but in the process I can say it was a wonderful thing for my family.

You went to Woodstock. What was that like?

It was August of 1969, and I had just finished freshman year in college. I was kind of in the heyday of my counterculture life experience. There was just a large group of us from Syracuse. We got there Friday afternoon and got stuck in the traffic, like everybody. And sometime late Friday afternoon, they decided to just open the gates and there would be no charge. We were happy about that so we wouldn't have to sneak in, or pay.

What happened after that — 'cause that's what my students ask me, "Joseph, tell us about Woodstock'' — I'll say all I can tell you is this: I'm glad they made a movie about it so I can see what I did there.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Sunday Conversation: Joseph McAuliffe, former hippie, pastor and history buff, now leads Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at USF 08/18/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 18, 2012 4:31am]
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