1950 April 21

University of California Regents Adopt Loyalty Oath


The University of California loyalty oath controversy was one of the major events of the Cold War and the most highly publicized of all the loyalty oath issues in the country. After a year of debate and changes to a proposed loyalty oath, the University of California Board of Regents on this day adopted a modified version of a loyalty oath for all university employees. The Regents modified its position again in the months ahead, but the oath adopted on this day became the basis for subsequent actions. (The issue was complicated by a separate state loyalty oath for all public employees, the Levering Act, which Governor Earl Warren signed into law on October 3, 1950.) Following this decision, 81 faculty members who had refused to sign the oath were granted termination hearings. In the end, 31 non-signers were fired on August 25, 1950.

The insidious aspect of the University of California loyalty oath, and of all loyalty oaths during the Cold War, was that it had nothing to do with any specific criminal or unprofessional conduct on the part of individuals required to sign it. The California State Supreme Court invalidated the special university loyalty oath on October 17, 1952. The Levering Act loyalty oath for all public employees remained in effect, but it too was eventually invalidated by the state Supreme Court, in Vogel v. County of Los Angeles, 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. He served as president until 1983. 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.

The Regents Oath: “Having taken the constitutional oath of office required of public officials of the State of California, I hereby formally acknowledge my acceptance of the position and salary named, and also state that I am not a member of the Communist Party or any other organization which advocates the overthrow of the Government by force or violence, and that I have no commitments in conflict with my responsibilities with respect to impartial scholarship and free pursuit of truth. I understand that the foregoing statement is a condition of my employment and a consideration of payment of my salary.”

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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