In February of 1968, a small ad was placed in the Foghorn for a junior-senior dance. The ad promised a buffet dinner, two live bands, and unlimited free beverages — it seemed like a normal USF event for the time, but one infamous white rabbit logo led to controversy on campus.
The party was to be held at San Francisco’s Playboy Club, which opened three years prior. The six-story nightclub was part of a chain of venues, all run by the outrageous Hugh Hefner. The club was mostly known for its “Playboy Bunnies,” scantily clad female servers who wore iconic bunny costumes, and caused a lot of discourse in an America already grappling with issues around female sexuality.
The dance, which was organized by then-junior class representative, Leo Murphy, and then-junior class president, Phil Kelly, caught the attention of faculty and students at USF, and not all were hopping for joy at its announcement.
Assistant Chaplain at the time, Bernard Bush, S.J., told the 1968 Foghorn, “The playboy philosophy is contrary to Christian principles,” and was unhappy the cost of the $1,400 party was almost as much as the university’s spiritual program budget for the year. James Straukamp, S.J., a former professor of history, called the nightclub “dehumanizing.”
It also did not help that the ad was juxtaposed in the Foghorn next to three pages detailing USF’s core curriculum statements and commitment as a Jesuit-Catholic university.
The party was approved by then-Vice President of Student Affairs — and future USF president — John Lo Schiavo, S.J. He was later quoted in the Foghorn saying, “The decision to hold the junior-senior ball at the Playboy Club may very well have been a mistake.”
Murphy defended the decision of the sultry venue, “It’s a novelty to go to the Playboy Club, that’s all.”
The commotion over the party led to some students protesting. John Torpey, a senior at the time, was planning a picketing demonstration the night of the dance outside of the club, and claimed to have 10-25 other students joining him, and possible coverage from a local television station. The University also announced its intentions to hold a town hall to discuss the ethics of the dance.
Not everyone was as vehemently opposed. James Haag, who was an associate of physics, said “I know I’d go if I were an undergraduate.”
Murphy was undeterred by the backlash, saying in the Foghorn, “If they have a town hall, I’ll be selling tickets right across the street. I’m just going to sit back and sell tickets while they make all the noise.”
Today, Leo Murphy serves as a lawyer, and was the Assistant District Attorney of San Francisco for twelve years. When the Foghorn reached out to him for comment, he seemed amused to recollect the controversy and his own comments, “That’s great I’m glad I said that.”
Eventually, just two weeks after the first ad for the party was posted, Murphy and Kelly canceled the junior-senior ball. In a joint statement to the Foghorn at the time, they said “We wish we could say that our decision was purely voluntary, and not the result of adverse pressure, but we can’t and we won’t.” San Francisco’s Playboy Club closed eight years later, in 1976.
Present day Murphy said he doesn’t remember whose idea it was to have the party at the Playboy Club in the first place, but attributed the then-trendy novelty of the club, and USF’s mainly male population at the time, to the decision.
He also said he doesn’t regret standing by the venue choice back then, nor does he regret eventually backing down.
“It was a different time,” said Murphy. “I would absolutely guarantee you that if I were a junior at USF today, and there were venues like the Playboy Club, I would not propose to have a party in a place like that. For all the obvious reasons.
“I think it would have been a fun party, though.”