1949 November 30

University of California Faculty Organize Opposition to Loyalty Oath


In response to a proposed loyalty oath for University of California faculty, a group consisted of faculty met on this day to plan their opposition. A number of faculty committed themselves to refusing to sign the required loyalty oath. After much debate, and consideration of different oaths, the Regents of the University finally adopted a loyalty oath on April 21, 1950.

The battle over the University of California loyalty oath was one of the great controversies of the Cold War anti-communist hysteria. The oath the Regents adopted in 1950 came after a year of proposals and protests. In the end, 31 faculty members were terminated, on August 25, 1950, for refusing to sign the oath. Others resigned from the university rather than be in a position to either sign the oath or be fired. The California State Supreme Court invalidated the university loyalty oath on October 17, 1952. Nonetheless, this still left in effect the Levering Act loyalty oath (October 3, 1950), which was required of all public employees in the state. It was eventually invalidated by the state Supreme Court, in December 1967.

Perhaps the best commentary on how the loyalty oath unnecessarily harmed talented professors involves the case of physics professor David Saxon. He was fired for not signing the loyalty oath in 1950, but went on to a distinguished career in science and, on July 1, 1975, was appointed President of the entire University of California system. Clearly, in the long run Saxon survived being fired, but his career was at least temporarily affected, and many others who were fired or left the university voluntarily suffered more lasting harm.

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; 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).

Read: David Gardner, The California Oath Controversy (1967)

Learn more at a timeline on the California loyalty oath controversy: http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/collections/loyaltyoath/timeline_test.html

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