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Of idols and ideals

Forget that old early to bed, early to rise adage.

Roy Weatherford likes to sleep late.

On a good day, he doesn't get out of bed until 1 p.m.

"It's earlier than I used to do but as I get older I don't need as much sleep," he said.

Rising late, perhaps, explains why he hasn't quite hit the healthy, wealthy and wise trifecta. But two out of three, ain't bad.

Weatherford is a philosophy professor and faculty union leader at the University of South Florida who has written three books and he exercises three or four days a week. That takes care of the healthy and wise.

Wealthy? Well, his Seffner home is modest and about as much as you could expect living on a professor's wages.

No matter. Weatherford said his life is enriched by family, friends, ideas and involvement in issues dear to his heart.

He protested the Vietnam War when he was a student at Harvard University. He marched in support of civil rights and women's rights. He worked on the George McGovern presidential campaign, and he lobbied to get the Government-in-the-Sunshine law passed in Florida.

More recently, Weatherford criticized the USF administration for firing Sami Al-Arian, the computer science professor accused by the U.S. government of having links to a terrorist group. Now, he's sparring with the administration over lapsed faculty contracts.

Weatherford stands by his support of Al-Arian, who remains in jail.

"I have never defended Sami Al-Arian's politics," Weatherford said.

What he has defended, he said, is free speech and academic freedom.

Weatherford's affinity for stirring the pot started when he was a student at Arkansas Technical University.

There, while studying math and physics, he got to know a group of professors who were concerned with civil rights, women's rights and social change.

"We'd sit around and drink coffee and talk about ideas," he said. "It was a very intellectually stimulating environment. So, of course, the administration fired them."

Weatherford and his friends rallied and circulated petitions to show support for their beloved professors. The college president called the students into his office, told them he was filing away their petition and if any of them ruffled any feathers again, they'd be kicked out of the school.

It was at that point that Weatherford decided he would follow in the footsteps of his professors.

"I loved them, and I wanted to be like them," he said.

He dropped his physics classes and started studying philosophy, which he continued to do in graduate school at Harvard University.

After earning a doctorate in philosophy, Weatherford moved to Florida 31 years ago to accept a job at USF.

While most of his classmates sought jobs at established, prestigious schools and on the east coast, Weatherford set his sights on the upstart USF, located in a decidedly unsophisticated part of the country.

"It has been my experience that the southern culture, at that time in particular, produced individual students whose lives could be transformed by philosophy much more than some smart a_ kid from New York. And I wanted to make a difference in people's lives."

When he arrived, he figured he would follow a traditional career path and work his way up the ladder at USF before moving on.

Three decades later, he still loves where he is.

"Doris and I found a real home in Tampa," he said. "We like the people, we like the weather."

In Massachusetts and even Arkansas, he said, community leaders typically come from families that have long been dominant.

"In Florida, anybody's who's willing to work can make a difference," he said.

Roy Weatherford

AGE: 60.

OCCUPATION: University of South Florida philosophy professor.

EXTRACURRICULAR SERVICE: President of the USF chapter of the United Faculty of Florida.

NOT EXACTLY LIGHT READING: Weatherford has written three books: Philosophical Foundations of Probability Theory, The Implications of Determinism, and World Peace and the Human Family.

THE GREAT ESCAPE: After a long day of philosophizing, Weatherford likes to watch a little television. Mysteries and old sitcoms, such as The Golden Girls, are his favorites.

A PERFECT PAIR: Weatherford's wife, Doris, is also an intellectual powerhouse. She has written several books. Her most recent is a history of women in Tampa, that will be published this summer.

HOW HE PROPOSED: On their first date, Roy said to Doris: "You're the smartest girl in the school, I'm the smartest guy. We oughta get married." Modesty, Doris says, is not his strong suit.

With his feet propped up on a stool, Roy Weatherford looks forward each day to sitting in his backyard for a bit of relaxation. It's a respite from his duties at the University of South Florida.

Roy Weatherford has a keen interest in current affairs, politics and social change. In his bookcase, there is a photo of him with then President Bill Clinton, during a re-election campaign stop in Tampa.