Introduction from

The California Oath Controversy
by David Gardner


Chapter One

Introduction

I

To report the story of any great controversy is manifestly to engage myth and reality, opinion and fact, legend and truth. When a dispute is long and complex, such as that which engrossed the University of California during the period 1949 to 1952, fact and fiction become more difficult to separate. However, there is one grand myth of the loyalty oath conflict, tenaciously clung to by some out of ignorance and by others for ideological reasons, which might be exposed to light at the outset: that this was mostly a conflict over principles. It was not. In its main outlines and principal events it, was a power struggle, a series of personal encounters between proud and influential men. Ideals and beliefs boldly enunciated early in the dispute were surrendered little by little as tribute to personal hostility, stubbornness, and bad manners. And in the end most of those who held uncompromisingly to their ideals--that small band of scholars unwilling to sign the oath--were victims of the battle, not its chief protagonists.

The San Francisco Examiner editorial of Tuesday morning, August 1, 1950, declaimed: "While American youth is being conscripted to die fighting Communistic barbarism in Korea and elsewhere it is proposed to accord to thirty-nine professors and assistant professors on the many campuses of the University of California the privilege of defying a simple regulation to protect the institution which is engaged in research vital to national defense." The "simple regulation"--a Communist disclaimer--noted by the Examiner had already by that time embroiled the University of California in a major controversy that had lasted for sixteen months and was to continue for another two years.

The battle had made adversaries primarily of faculty and Regents, but it had also pitted faculty member against faculty member and Regent against Regent. By August of 1950, members of the faculty refusing to sign the disclaimer and their protagonists on the governing board had become intractable; in the major confrontation later that month they were found to be nearly alone, resented by many of their colleagues, and criticized for an intransigence that their associates regarded only as harmful to the general welfare of the University.

"The great majority of the faculty are weary of the discussion [controversy]," wrote the chairman of the Academic Senate's Committee on Academic Freedom to University President Robert Gordon Sproul on August 18, 1950, and "they are unwilling to continue it. . . . Apathy, fear, insecurity all play a part. . . . I believe that anxiety concerning the possibility of disaster to you [Sproul] is the most general feeling which motivates faculty members at present. On the other hand," he continued, "there is no spontaneous movement to give you general support. This is also, I believe, attributed to weariness and confusion. The non-signers of the Communist disclaimer and their antagonists among the Regents, though weary, were neither apathetic nor confused as they pressed with equal ardor for a last engagement. And as the adversaries labored, so also did those members of the faculty seeking to avert the collision. Strenuous efforts were made by members of the faculty to induce the non-signers to sign. The appeals not only proved unsuccessful but also provoked resentment from those being importuned. "I think you . . . would do better," answered one non-signer in refusing the entreaties of a colleague, "instead of continuing the pressure on non-signers to sign, which only humiliates the faculty and sacrifices the matter of principle, if you put all the pressure you can on the Regents to keep their word." Interpreting dissension of this sort as clear evidence of a fatal disunity in the faculty, the non-signers' chief adversary, Regent John Francis Neylan, reported to a friend that the opposition was crumbling. Neither the Regent and his allies on the governing board nor the faculty non-signers crumbled, however, and on August 25, 1950, thirty-one members of the University of California faculty were dismissed by a two-vote majority of the Board of Regents for refusing to sign the disclaimer. The irony was that not one of those dismissed was accused by any Regent of being a Communist or in sympathy with any other organization allegedly subversive. Furthermore, each had been found by the Academic Senate Committee on Privilege and Tenure to be a competent scholar, an objective teacher, and untainted by disloyalty to the country. How the Regents of the University of California came to sever from the institution's service men and women against whom no charge of professional unfitness or personal disloyalty had been laid is an extraordinary study in futility.

II

The issues that gave life to the controversy, and the tactics and strategies that gave it direction were much associated with the principles of governance and the mechanisms of control on which the University's organizational and administrative structure rested. And as the dispute is traceable principally through the interaction of the several parts of the institution, some brief mention of the University's form is suggested.

In the spring of 1949, the University of California, a vast educational enterprise, was the country's largest university and ranked among the nation's best. There were general campuses at Berkeley and Los Angeles, college campuses at Davis and Santa Barbara, major research centers at Berkeley, Lick Observatory, La Jolla, and Riverside, and professional schools at Berkeley, Davis, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Nonacademic employees numbered 6,250. Members of the faculty and others engaged in the academic work of the institution totaled some 3,200. The University was vested as a public trust in the corporate body known as The Regents of the University of California, which constitutionally enjoyed full powers of organization and governance except for legislative interest in the appropriation, security, and administration of its funds. The Board of Regents was composed of twenty-four members, sixteen of whom were appointed by the governor of the state for terms of sixteen years. The remaining eight were ex officio members and included the governor as president of the Board, the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the State Assembly, the president of the State Board of Agriculture, the president of San Francisco's Mechanic's Institute, the state superintendent of public instruction, the president of the University, and the president of the alumni association. The Regents were mostly prominent men of affairs; and in this respect members of the Board in 1949 were no different from those who had served previously. Although nine had been Regents for a decade or more, fifteen had come on the Board since 1940.

The president of the University, as executive head of the institution, was appointed by the Regents and responsible to them. He served also as chairman of the Academic Senate. Robert Gordon Sproul, President of the University since 1930, enjoyed in 1949 the support and loyalty of the faculty, the staff, the alumni, and the Regents. An alumnus of the University, Berkeley class of 1913, Sproul entered its service in 1914 as a cashier and held successively the positions of assistant secretary, assistant comptroller, secretary and comptroller of the Board of Regents, and vice-president of the University until his election as president. A reliance on the faculty for advice on academic matters, an insistence on the prerogatives of the presidency in all other matters relating to the executive function, and a respectful regard for the Board and its responsibilities had gained for Sproul the confidence and cooperation of the faculty and the Regents.

The University's Academic Senate, functioning under the general authority of the Organic Act which founded the University in 1868 and in accord with broad delegations of regental authority, was an integral part of the administration and enjoyed advisory responsibility in the appointment, promotion, and dismissal of colleagues; in the determination of educational policy; in the formulation of the budget; and final authority in the internal organization and conduct of the Senate itself. The President relied heavily on the recommendations of the Senate, and the Regents in turn expected that the President's proposals to the Board on matters of interest to the Senate had previously enjoyed the considered opinion of the faculty. This system of shared responsibility had proven to be a reasonably productive one for a quarter of a century. By 1949, however, forces at work within the University were chipping away little by little at the adequacy of the organizational and administrative structure and at the effectiveness of the responsible officers. Some of the cause and much of the course of the controversy is traceable to the effect these forces had on the formal and informal lines of communication and the means of control and constraint within the institution 

In 1949 the administration of the University was still strained by the exigencies of World War II and by the pressures of enrollment and adjustment following the close of hostilities in 1945. Although the appointment of Clarence Dykstra as Provost of the Los Angeles campus in 1945 had helped to distribute the administrative burden in the University, the retirement in 1947 of Professor Monroe E. Deutsch, Provost of the Berkeley campus and Vice-President of the University, and the failure of the Regents to appoint a successor, countered whatever gains had been made in the appointment of a Provost at Los Angeles. Thirty line officers, exclusive of staff, had reported to the President even during Deutsch's tenure. To this number were added twenty-two deans, directors, and other administrative officers when Deutsch's retirement left vacant the Provost's position at Berkeley. The organization and staffing of the President's office had not kept pace with the complexities and pressures facing it. This weakness contributed in part to the administrative difficulties experienced by the President's office early in the controversy and which throughout the dispute plagued Sproul in his relations with the Board of Regents.

The Academic Senate in a similar sense had failed, in its complex and somewhat cumbersome mechanism, to allow for ways and means of sampling opinion on matters affecting its members. There were advisory committees, one for the northern faculties and one for the southern, responsible to the Senate for informing the President on faculty views and attitudes and for advising him on matters of general University policy and welfare. The committee, however, met only infrequently, advised and informed irregularly, and were without formal means of ready access to general faculty opinion apart from the service of their members on other committees and personal friendship with colleagues.

The Senate was also in the process of transferring power from the old guard to the younger men of promise. The senior men had for years worked closely with the President and knew many of the Regents personally. On the other hand, they did not know well the newer men on the faculty, many of whom had been appointed since the close of World War II. At the same time, the younger men were less well known to many of their colleagues, were not experienced in working with the President, and were not widely acquainted with the Regents. In the crisis brought on by the oath, these factors combined to deny in the Senate a commanding voice in which full confidence and reliance could be placed as the representative opinion and advice of the faculty. Consequently, in negotiations with the President and with the Regents, those serving the Senate were placed time and again in the position of representing opinion later found to be unrepresentative of the faculty majority. This was a critical weakness for which the Senate paid dearly.

Although the Regents had delegated broad powers and responsibilities in educational matters to the Academic Senate and had respected the President's executive role as the medium through which Senate recommendations and advice were represented to it, the Board, nevertheless, retained a substantial interest in the administration of the University. The Board's Committee on Finance and Business Management had for some time served, in effect, as an "executive committee" in the sense that the President brought to it not only matters of finance and business management, but other matters relating to the general welfare of the institution.

A member of long standing on this committee was Regent John Francis Neylan. A person of powerful physique and bearing, Neylan, as a young man, figured prominently in bringing Hiram Johnson and the Progressive Republican party to power in California and had served in Governor Johnson's administration as chairman of the California State Board of Control (1911-1917). Neylan's stature and influence in California's political and legal circles gained as he engaged in a successful practice of the law in San Francisco and grew intimate with the William Randolph Hearst family interests radiating from San Simeon. Neylan, at the time of the oath controversy, was serving the second of two sixteen-year terms as a Regent of the University, having been appointed initially by Governor C. C. Young in 1928 and again by Governor Earl Warren in 1944. Regent Neylan and President Sproul had been close personal friends for years and had worked together harmoniously. But for whatever reasons--the burden of business after World War II, the number of newer appointments to the Board, the overwhelming number of matters pending--Neylan and Sproul by 1949 were less cordial than before. Where the relationship between Neylan and Sproul had been a source of stability between the office of the President and the Board of Regents, it was by the time of the oath a potentially disruptive factor. During the controversy Neylan and Sproul held differing opinions and drew further apart. Paradoxically, in the course of the dispute, each reversed his position regarding the oath. This further aggravated the deteriorating relationship and contributed to an already confused, complex, and sensitive situation.

Although the organizational and administrative weaknesses detailed here very likely helped prolong the controversy and probably were in part responsible for it, the answers to how the conflict began and why it persisted lie elsewhere. One should bear in mind, however, the respective roles of the Regents, the office of the President, and the Academic Senate and the internal conditions of strain existing within and among them as the University moved toward the turmoil that overtook it in the early spring of 1949.

III

How the Regents of the University of California on March 25, 1949, came to amend an oath of allegiance already required of the faculty and staff by adding to it a disclaimer affidavit of nonmembership and nonbelief in any organization that advocated the overthrow of the government is a disingenuous adventure. The Board acted that day in response to two immediate but quite unrelated concerns: a State Senate constitutional amendment pending in the California legislature that proposed to take from the Regents and give to the legislature the power to ensure the loyalty of officers and employees of the University; and a disagreement within the administration and the Board over the interpretation of regental regulations governing the use of University facilities. The confluence of these two forces on the morning of March 25, 1949, and the inducement each offered to the President and the Regents to respond, can be rationally interpreted as cause for enactment of the oath only if independently understood.

IV

In early 1949, California's Un-American Activities Committee, established eight years earlier by joint action of both houses of the California legislature, introduced a thoroughgoing and comprehensive legislative program consisting of thirteen bills designed to "isolate, expose and remove from positions of power and influence persons who are a dangerous menace to our freedom and security." Known popularly as the Tenney bills after the committee chairman, Senator Jack B. Tenney, Democrat of Los Angeles, the legislation sought to strengthen and supplement existing laws dealing with subversion.

Tenney, a former piano player and song writer, entered public life in 1936 when he was elected to the California State Assembly on the Democratic ticket. Shortly thereafter, he was elected vice-president and then president of Local 47, American Federation of Musicians, in Los Angeles. For the next three years, both as legislator and as union official, Tenney was associated with liberal and "left-wing" causes. Following defeat in his bid for reelection as president of Local 47 in December of 1939, Tenney turned against several of the same liberal causes he had supported only shortly before. In the next session of the California Legislature, he emerged as a leading proponent of a bill designed to deny the Communist party the right to a place on the ballot. Tenney was appointed the following year as chairman of the Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities and served continuously in that position until his resignation in mid-1949.

Senate Constitutional Amendment 13 (SCA 13), one of the thirteen bills introduced by Tenney and his associates, threatened intrusion of the legislature into prerogatives of the Regents that in 1879 and 1918 were specifically delegated by the state's highest law. It proposed to amend Section 9, Article IX, of the State Constitution, which gave full powers of governance and organization to the corporate body known as The Regents of the University of California, by assigning to the legislature power to determine the loyalty of University employees. SCA 13 was referred to the Senate Committee on Education. When hearings on the Tenney bills began in March, SCA 13 was not among those heard and neither were five of the other twelve bills introduced. The remaining seven constituted the serious legislative proposals of the Un-American Activities Committee.

As late as mid-May, the prospects for enactment of the seven bills appeared favorable. Each had passed the Senate with a heavy affirmative vote. But in the lower house only three of the seven bills were reported out of committee. On June 24, 1949, Assemblyman Yorty of Los Angeles moved that the remaining three bills be withdrawn from the file and re-referred to the Committee on Rules. The motion carried. Five days later a motion to withdraw one of the bills from committee was defeated by a vote of 57 to 16. The Tenney bills had lost in toto.

Writers of the oath controversy have uniformly reported that the Tenney bills, particularly SCA 13 and/or threats of budgetary penalties, prompted the Regents to enact the oath. The evidence suggests, however, that the bills were less cause than they were cover and, probably, in and of themselves would not have provoked the Regents or the president to require the oath. Rather, the "threat" posed to the University by the bills, and by SCA 13 in particular, proved convenient to recall later in the controversy when the administration was pressed hard to report why the oath was needed. But, as will be shown, they were not the significant factor in the decision of the Regents to adopt an oath. Rather, the bills in their entirety were important to the University in a different way; for to whatever extent they turned the political temper of the times into articulated issues, then in that measure they indirectly influenced the mood of the Regents the day the oath was adopted. And one need only recall briefly the mood of the nation in 1949 to grasp the meaning of the Tenney bills.

A "curtain" had fallen across the face of Eastern Europe and from behind it the Communist strategy for world dominion was allegedly planned. Communist takeovers in Rumania and Czechoslovakia, civil war in Greece, radical unrest in Western Europe, civil war in China, and the gradual dissolution of the British Empire were regarded as threats to the defense and security of the United States. The Communist party, U.S.A., was adjudged by many to be a fifth column within the body politic, and as a people in fear is no more discerning than a people in anger, the nation lashed out to secure domestically what seemingly eluded it internationally. The great quest for security that captured the nation's attention for much of the immediate postwar decade turned easily for some into a fetish as it served both their personal ambitions and the preoccupation of their followers. Abetted by the sensational spy trials in 1949 and 1950 of Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers, Judith Coplon, Klaus Fuchs, and others and encouraged by the federal government's move in March of 1949 to prosecute eleven of the nation's top Communists for violation of the Smith Act, Senator McCarthy at the national level and Tenney in California, Canwell in Washington, Ober in Maryland, and others of similar persuasion in state governments moved boldly to delimit the liberties of Communists, fellow travelers, and a host of other alleged subversives. The Feinberg Law in New York, the Ober Anti-Subversive Laws in Maryland, the Tenney bills in California, among others, and a rash of local ordinances all directed against "subversion" in the schools and/or the civil service reflected a nation's exaggerated response to a fear magnified by the very steps taken to allay it. America was disquieted and the uneasiness of the times could not help but penetrate the consciousness of the trustees of California's state university.

V

As the Tenney bills brought the question of loyalty home to California, the Regents of the University of Washington were demonstrating its relevance to higher education. Dean Edward H. Lauer of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington, on September 8, 1948, initiated complaints against six tenured members of the Washington faculty. Each, accused of present or past membership in the Communist party, earlier in the year had been called as a witness by the State of Washington's Legislative Committee on Un-American Activities, known popularly as the Canwell Committee, and on that occasion either had refused to testify as to his relationship with the party or had admitted past membership but denied present membership. Raymond B. Allen, President of the University, sought later to gain further information from each of the six about the charges made. Because of their unwillingness to cooperate with the president and because of their testimonies at the Canwell Committee hearings, the complaint was made and dismissal of the six sought.

Against Professors Herbert J. Phillips and Joseph Butterworth all charges except current membership in the Communist party were dropped. Each had admitted his present membership in the party to the faculty's Committee on Tenure and Academic Freedom; and this admission had cleared the way for the University of Washington to determine whether or not it would deny employment to members of the Communist party ipso facto. The recommendation of the Committee on Tenure and Academic Freedom in the Phillips and Butterworth cases was not unanimous. Of the eleven members of the committee, five held that under the Administrative Code of the University, membership in the Communist party ipso facto was not ground for dismissal. Three others concurred with the five that the respondents not be dismissed but disagreed with them on matters of reasoning and factual considerations. Two other members of the committee felt that Professors Butterworth and Phillips, by reason of their active present membership in the Communist party, should be dismissed. A final member agreed with the two who would dismiss, but for different reasons.

The Board of Regents conducted its own hearings on January 22, 1949, and voted, subsequently, to dismiss Professors Phillips and Butterworth as of February 1, 1949. Another of the six was dismissed, not for current membership in the Communist party, but for lack of candor when queried about his relationship with the party. The remaining three, although not dismissed, were required to sign a Communist disclaimer and placed on two years probation.

The dismissals were the first major challenge to the stated position of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) that membership in the Communist party did not ipso facto constitute ground for dismissal:

There is, then, nothing in the nature of the teaching profession which requires the automatic exclusion of Communists, and the attempt to exclude them would threaten our educational system. . . . In the light of present facts, it is the unanimous opinion of the Active members of Committee A that there is nothing now apparent in reference to the Communist Party in the United States, or to international conditions, that calls for a departure from the principles of freedom and tenure by which the Association has been guided throughout its history. On the basis of those principles, this Association regards any attempt to subject college teachers to civic limitations not imposed upon other citizens as a threat against the Academic profession, and against the society that profession serves.

For the AAUP, professional unfitness could not be inferred from association nor determined by imputing to an individual the characteristics known generally to identify any category or organization. The AAUP commitment sharply contradicted the principles enunciated by the President and Regents of the University of Washington and was contrary as well to the position of the American Association of Universities, which held membership in the Communist party to be disqualifying.

The California legislature, on March 17, 1949, passed Assembly Concurrent Resolution 47 (ACR 47) which commended the Regents of the University of Washington for their dismissal of known Communists from the faculty. As the resolution had instructed, Chief Clerk of the Assembly, Arthur Ohnimus, on March 23, 1949, sent copies of this legislative action to members of the Board of Regents of the University of California and to its President and Provost. The California legislature had taken cognizance of the Washington incident as a substantive issue and had expressed its opinion unequivocally to the governing board and administration of the University of California. While it does not appear that ACR 47 played a direct part in the Board's adoption of the oath two days later, it is certain that the dismissal of Professor Herbert Phillips from the University of Washington because of his membership in the Communist party, and his appearance on the Los Angeles campus of the University of California shortly thereafter, was a principal cause.

VI

Dr. Clarence Dykstra, Provost of the Los Angeles campus of the University of California, signed permissions on February 15, 1949, granting authority to the Graduate Students' Association to sponsor a debate on campus between Professor Herbert Phillips, recently dismissed member of the University of Washington faculty, and Professor Merritt Benson, professor of journalism at the same university. The subject of the debate was whether one who was a member of the Communist party could also be an objective teacher and impartial researcher for truth. (Owing largely to the influence of the Washington cases, the question had already evoked national interest and was to be widely discussed during the spring and summer of 1949.) Provost Dykstra viewed the debate as a forum at which both sides were to be presented but attendance was to be restricted to graduate students. The undergraduates' response was to circulate a petition urging that Professors Phillips and Benson be permitted to address the entire student body. On the evening before the debate petitions bearing 2,210 signatures were forwarded to the officers of the Associated Students for action. Although the officers took no formal notice of the petitions, they authorized the president of the student body to ask the Provost for an open meeting. In response, Dykstra indicated that no change in arrangements was possible at that late hour. Furthermore, on the morning following the debate Professor Benson was scheduled to leave the city.

The refusal prompted the faculty and students at Los Angeles to voice a long-standing complaint that vital political and religious issues could not be discussed on campuses of the University of California. (University Regulation 17, first adopted by the Regents in 1934, governed the use of University facilities and denied them to those whose use of such facilities fell within certain prohibitions specified in the State Constitution, namely Article IX, Section 9, in which the University as a public trust was required to be free of all political or sectarian influences.) Dykstra believed that Regulation 17 did not prevent the discussion of controversial questions so long as both sides were presented, and so long as the meeting was under the sponsorship of a recognized University organization. "On the other hand," as Dykstra recognized, "no partisan or sectarian meeting is to be allowed." Dykstra considered the Phillips-Benson debate to be clearly permissible within the rules of the University, and in reporting the situation to Sproul for the latter's use in answering criticisms being voiced by some members of the Board, he said:

It seems to me that when permission was asked to hold the above-mentioned meeting that if the subject was of sufficient interest for the newspapers, the magazines, commentators, and Town Hall of New York to discuss openly, mature students should be allowed to hear a debate between two people who were in the middle of the controversy, both of whom had already de bated the question at Reed College in Portland, and probably are expected to debate it again. In my opinion, it is of high importance to raise the question of thought control on our campuses and strike early if it appears that such control is raising its ugly head.

The Los Angeles papers reported the debate and the exclusion of undergraduates from it.

Phillips' appearance was discussed at length by the Regents of the University of California in executive session on February 25, 1949. Chairman of the Board at this time was Edward A. Dickson of Los Angeles. Dickson, a Regent of the University since 1913, when he was appointed at the age of thirty-four by Governor Hiram Johnson, enjoyed considerable influence in southern California both within Los Angeles financial and civic circles, and among the area's several newspapers. Regent Dickson, as had Regent Neylan, crusaded for Progressive Republican candidate Hiram Johnson in the latter's successful bid for the governorship in 19 10. He had edited and published the Los Angeles Evening Express from 1912 to 1931 and then had turned his interest and energies to the growing savings-and-loan movement in southern California. Dickson was principally responsible for persuading the Board of Regents to found a campus of the University at Los Angeles in 1919 and counted among his friends many members of the faculty and administrative staff there. He had also been a strong backer of Sproul's when the latter was elected to the presidency in 1930, and continued to regard him highly in 1949. Dickson had followed the Washington cases closely and was much concerned with the appearance of a known Communist (Phillips) on any campus of the University. A report of the incident at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) was made by the President from a letter written to him by Dykstra on February 23. Sproul called the Board's attention to the relevant constitutional prohibitions against political and sectarian influence in the University, to University Regulation 17, which implemented the constitutional prohibition, and to resolutions of the Board dealing with the employment of Communists by the University. The Board was critical of Dykstra for having authorized the use of University facilities in seeming contravention of existing University policy (Regulation 17) and for a purpose that was regarded by some Regents as an affront to the University of Washington. Regent Paul Hutchinson, president of the UCLA Alumni Association, in defense of Dykstra, pointed out that President Allen of the University of Washington had recommended to the Provost one of the participants in the debate; and that in his (Hutchinson's) opinion the University regulation in question might not be as clear as the Board supposed.

In deference to Hutchinson's views, no action was taken by the Regents against Dykstra. Instead, the Provost was invited to represent his position personally at the Board's April meeting. A special committee, under the chairmanship of Regent Hutchinson, was appointed "to draft a resolution for adoption by the Board setting forth the Regents' views as expressed at today's meeting, and providing that all facilities of the University are to be barred to Communist party members." Appointed to serve with Hutchinson (whose term as Regent was to expire June 30, 1949) were Regent Victor R. Hansen, Los Angeles attorney, and Regent John Francis Neylan.

"Involvement of University of California in the Washington University Communism Case" was item 5 on the agenda of the President's Administrative Advisory Committee meeting in Berkeley on February 28, 1949. The item was included on the agenda primarily because of the Phillips-Benson debate at UCLA. The key administrative officers of the University (including Sproul and Dykstra) and members of the northern Senate's Advisory Committee were in attendance. Sproul reported that the Regents saw no reason why "invited speakers should have the doubtful privilege of belonging to the Communist Party when members of our own staff are denied it." Also, said Sproul, the Board was concerned with the inappropriateness of debating the policies of a sister institution when the policies in debate coincided with those held by the University of California--particularly in view of possible "legislative restrictions on the University because of an alleged liberality toward Communists on the part of the administration. The minutes of this meeting report:

It was the consensus that while inviting a member of the Communist Party to speak on campus under controlled conditions is essentially different from hiring or retaining one to take individual charge of a course, and that a judicious use of Communists on the "Exhibit A" principle might actually be an effective antidote to radical tendencies among young and impressionable students; nevertheless, in view of the attitude of public leaders, and the recognition of that attitude by the Regents of the University any exceptions to the general policy implied by the Regents would be dangerously unwise. To avoid errors in judgment the faculty should be more widely informed of the full scope of the policy under which the University is now operating [emphasis added].

Provost Dykstra faced, coincidentally with the Phillips-Benson debate, a related problem which had arisen in connection with an invitation by UCLA's Institute of Industrial Relations to Professor Harold J. Laski to deliver two lectures on the University's Los Angeles campus. Laski, controversial member of the British Labour party, a member of its Executive Committee, and a professor at the University of London, had been invited to the United States by the Sidney Hillman Foundation for a series of ten lectures. On December 10, 1948, Stewart Meacham, director of the Hillman Foundation, wrote to the UCLA Institute of Industrial Relations asking if the University wished to invite Laski. Laski was offered by Meacham to both Berkeley and Los Angeles. On January 26, 1949, the UCLA Institute of Industrial Relations and the Department of Political Science asked the Provost for authorization to ask Laski to lecture on campus. Professor Edgar Warren, director of the Institute, was asked by Dykstra if Laski was to appear at Berkeley as well. When assured in the affirmative, permission was given to invite Laski to UCLA.

Toward the end of January, Professor Abbot Kaplan of UCLA's Institute of Industrial Relations was in New York and visited with Meacham of the Hillman Foundation. Kaplan learned that Laski would be able to speak either at Los Angeles or at Berkeley--not at both, as had been earlier thought possible. As permission had already been given by UCLA's Provost, Kaplan and Meacham agreed that Laski's University of California lectures would take place on the Los Angeles campus . Five weeks passed, however, before Dykstra was advised that Laski was not scheduled at Berkeley. Once informed, the Provost asked Edgar Warren to get in touch with Professors Clark Kerr and Peter Odegard of Berkeley's Institute of Industrial Relations and Department of Political Science respectively, and ask them to inquire of the President if Laski could be heard on the Berkeley campus and also whether, available or not, Laski would be welcome there. The President responded on March 10 by teletype to Warren with a copy to Dykstra. Sproul said that he was unfamiliar with the situation and in any event was reluctant to intervene as Dykstra had full power to act. With the Phillips-Benson debate still freshly in mind, Dykstra remained anxious for further clarification. However, further effort to secure an elaboration of the President's attitude proved unrewarding.

The University's Charter Day celebrations at Los Angeles on March 21 afforded Dykstra the opportunity to talk personally with Sproul about the invitation to Laski. Dykstra reports the President as saying that "the appearance of Laski on our campus would not be pleasing to the Board of Regents because some have charged Laski with being ultra-left and the Regents have a very firm policy as to Communists and alleged Communists [emphasis added]." Taking this to mean that the President wished the invitation withdrawn, Dykstra advised Warren to call off the Laski lectures.

The Provost had allowed no publicity about the Laski invitation, and only the principals knew that Laski was to speak at UCLA. When the University advised the Hillman Foundation that because Laski could not speak at Berkeley he would, therefore, be unable to speak at UCLA, the Foundation chose to challenge the decision. Jacob Potofsky, president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, on behalf of the Foundation, reported the University's decision to the press and suggested that Laski's political views and the appearance the previous month at UCLA of Professor Phillips were what really prompted the University to withdraw its invitation and not for the reason given by the University. Potofsky's rather aggravated response may in part have been prompted by similar refusals to Laski occurring elsewhere. The Harvard Law School Forum, for example, was to have sponsored an address by Laski at a public school auditorium in Cambridge. The school board denied use of the auditorium to Laski, however, and Sanders Theater on the Harvard campus was chosen as an alternate site. The report of Laski's acceptance of the Harvard invitation was carried nationally, and the UCLA incident was woven into the story. To force the University's hand, Potofsky, on March 24, wired to Dykstra and Sproul and offered to have Laski speak at both Berkeley and Los Angeles.

Upon receipt of this wire, Dykstra called Sproul at the Santa Barbara campus where the Regents were gathering for their March meeting. Dykstra asked that he be allowed to send one of two wires in reply to Potofsky. The first read: "We have your proposal to present Laski on both major campuses of the University. Have just had President Sproul on the phone with regard to Berkeley campus and he joins me in accepting early April dates." The second read: "Since you have now offered Laski to both campuses my reason for withdrawing my earlier consent no longer applies and I am glad to reinstate my approval of having Laski on this campus on the dates as given." President Sproul advised Dykstra to send neither wire until he had talked with the Regents about the problem.

VII

It was these two issues--the dismissal of two tenured members of the faculty at the University of Washington for current membership in the Communist party, and the use of University facilities on the Los Angeles campus by a Communist (Phillips) and a leader of the British Labour Party (Laski)--that caused the administrative officers and the Board of Regents of the University of California to be concerned with the clarity and explicitness of University regulations governing both the employment of faculty and staff and the use of University facilities. On the eve of the March 25, 1949, meeting of the Board of Regents, these matters were of immediate importance. The evidence clearly suggests that the Tenney bills, particularly SCA 13, and legislative cognizance of the University of Washington cases (ACR 47) were not substantive concerns but, rather, acted as catalysts to bring about a quick "solution" of the two principal issues. They also served, very likely, to suggest the means of solving administratively the unrest and uncertainty generated within the University by the Washington cases and the UCLA incidents. Thus, given the political temper of the times, the Regents' unanimous response to the need to strengthen and delineate University policy prohibiting the employment of, and use of facilities by, Communists--enactment of the oath, in part--undoubtedly appeared to them not only rational but wise as well on the morning of March 25, 1949--even to those Regents who later were to reconsider and in reversing their stance bitterly divide the Board of Regents.

As members of the University's governing board gathered on the Santa Barbara campus for their March meeting, no one could have predicted that by the close of the session the University of California would have embarked upon a course leading to near disaster.


Source: Gardner, David, The California Oath Controversy. Berkeley: UC Press, 1967

 

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