1975 July 1

David Saxon, Fired For Not Signing Loyalty Oath in 1950, Becomes President of University of California


Physicist David S. Saxon, who was fired as a faculty member for not signing the University of California loyalty oath in 1950, on this day became President of the entire University of California system. He served as president of the university until 1983.

The University of California loyalty oath was arguably the most highly publicized of all the loyalty oaths during the Cold War. After an oath was first proposed in the spring of 1949, the battle within the university raged for a year, until an oath was finally adopted on April 21, 1950 (although subsequent maneuverings made the issue somewhat complicated). Thirty-one faculty members, including Saxon, were terminated for refusing to sign the oath. The California Supreme Court, however, invalidated the oath on October 17, 1952, and a number of faculty members negotiated their return to the university.

The oath issue was further complicated by the Levering Act, signed by Governor Earl Warren on October 3, 1950, which imposed a separate loyalty oath for all public employees in the state. That law was invalidated by the state Supreme Court in December 1967. Loyalty oaths were a special mania during the anti-Communist frenzy of the Cold War. Unlike traditional oaths of office, which involve an oath to uphold the Constitution and the country’s laws, Cold War loyalty oaths required people to swear that they were not members of the Communist Party and/or other radical parties or movements. Thus, they were oaths regarding membership and beliefs without reference to any actual or planned illegal action.

The mania for loyalty oaths during the Cold War included the University of California oath (April 21, 1950); the Taft-Hartley Act, which required a loyalty oath for labor leaders (June 23, 1947); the Gwinn Amendment, which required a loyalty oath for federally funded public housing residents (July 5, 1952); and, in the 1960s, a loyalty oath for Medicare recipients, which was never enforced (February 13, 1967).

Learn more about David Saxon: http://senate.universityofcalifornia.edu/inmemoriam/davidsaxon.html Learn more at a timeline on the loyalty oath controversyhttp://bancroft.berkeley.edu/collections/loyaltyoath/timeline_intro.html Read: David Gardner, The California Oath Controversy (1967)

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