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John D. Hicks (non-signer, History) to Stephen D. Bechtel (Chairman, Alumni Council, California Alumni Association), August 3, 1950

 

August 3, 1950

MR. STEPHEN BECHTEL
244 Lakeside Drive
Oakland, California


Dear Mr. Bechtel:

You will recall that at Davis last April, following the meeting of the Board of Regents which adopted the Alumni Compromise, I said something like this to you: "You have prevented mass murder, but when the executions begin one at a time, we shall look to you again for help." You then took little stock in my statement, and tried to assure me that our troubles were over.

It now appears that I was wrong even in my assumption that the Alumni Committee had prevented mass murder. At the July meeting of the Board, thirty-nine tenure members of the faculty, all of whom the Senate Committee on Privilege and Tenure had cleared of the slightest taint of Communism, were saved from dismissal only by a ten to nine vote. Thereupon Regent Neylan changed his vote from the minority to the majority, and served notice that at the August meeting of the Board he would move a reconsideration. Following this, the University Attorney ruled, quite mysteriously and unaccountably, that the Secretary of the Board of Regents would have to wait until after the August meeting before sending out contracts to the thirty-nine non-signers, as the ten to nine vote had ordered. A count of absentees at the July meeting makes it seem almost certain that, if Neylan can only get a full meeting of the Board, he will succeed in his determination to see the executions carried out.

Such action, by any rational interpretation of the Alumni Compromise, must be construed as a complete breach of faith. If the pledge to refer the cases of non-signers to the Senate Committee on Privilege and Tenure meant anything at all, it meant that the Regents could be expected to give favorable consideration to the report of the Committee. This was the understanding of the President, of the faculty, and certainly of about half the Board of Regents. It was on this understanding that the Committee of Seven, which I headed, laid down its arms, and returned some $12,000 cash in hand to the donors. Any other interpretation of the Alumni Compromise would have made it conform with the well-known vigilante concept, "Give a man a fair trial and hang him." I am totally unwilling to believe that the distinguished members of the Alumni Committee could ever have been capable of making so fraudulent a proposal.

If the Neylan faction of the Board succeeds in carrying through its program, it is hard to see how the faculty can ever again have faith in the Board of Regents. Such action would constitute the second complete double-cross of the faculty by the Regents within a few months. The first instance came when we were assured by spokesmen for the Regents, both privately and publicly, that if we could get the Senate on record in support of the Regents' policy opposing the employment of Communists, the oath requirement would be handled in such a way as to satisfy the faculty. Believing what we were told, and acting in good faith, we put over on a mail ballot by nearly an eighty percent majority the kind of resolution that we were told the Regents desired. But at their next meeting they refused, although only by a ten to ten vote, to rescind the requirement of the oath. We should have been warned by this experience, but we convinced ourselves that there were enough men of good will on the Board that, with the backing of the Alumni Committee, we could count on a fair interpretation of the proposed compromise. It now appears that we can count on nothing. At the last meeting of the Board even the new President of the Alumni Association voted against us. Surely, surely your Committee can do something about that.

You remember, I trust, that I was one of the first to sign the Anti-Communist oath, and that my only objection, personally, to the contract proposed by the Alumni Committee was the way in which, by requiring annual repetitions, it completely vitiates any legal claim to tenure rights on the part of the faculty. My interest in this case stems in no way from sympathy with Communists or Communism. No one on this faculty or on the Board of Regents, has fought these wreckers any harder than I have. If any member of the thirty-nine non-signers were tainted with Communism, I would be against him. But the integrity of these men has been abundantly proved. The matter before us has nothing to do with Communism. The question is merely one of good faith. Will the Regents keep their implied pledge, or will they flout it?

I need not tell you how serious will be the consequences of the dismissal of these thirty-nine men, many of them scholars of world renown. The reputation of the University will drop to an all-time low. There will be the customary investigation by the American Association of University Professors, followed by a devastating and well-publicized report. The University of California will be blacklisted, and all good men will be warned to avoid it. There will be few immediate resignations, for most of us cannot afford that luxury, but gradually the valuable men on our faculty will accept calls elsewhere, while our efforts to recruit competent scholars from the outside will fail (as they are already failing). The same dry-rot that has virtually destroyed the University of Texas, following a similar episode, will set in at California. * * *

May we not count on you to help us prevent this "lasting havoc" from being wrought upon your Alma Mater?

Sincerely,
John D. Hicks

cc: Paul L. Davies
Milton H. Esberg, Jr.
Kathryn K. Fletcher
Don H. McLaughlin
Governor Earl Warren
President Robert Gordon Sproul


Source: To Bring You the Facts, pamphlet privately printed and distributed by eighteen alumni of the Berkeley campus, August 17, 1950.

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