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Expanded Timeline: Events of the Loyalty Oath Controversy and Historical Background

 

Introduction

1940-1948

1949
January-February
March-April
May-June
July-August
September-October
November-December

1950
January-February
March-April
May-June
July-August
September-October
November-December

1951-1956

 

January-February 1949


National and International events this year...

The Chinese civil war ends with victory for the Chinese Communists. In American politics, accusations of "who lost China" will become a major factor in foreign policy and anti-communist debates.

The Soviet Union successfully detonates its first atomic bomb, producing consternation in the United States and ultimately leading to investigations and accusations that American communists helped transfer vital technology to the Soviets. These events have implications for the University of California, since the civilian side of the development of the atomic bomb during the War was under the control of the University and directed by Robert Oppenheimer, a member of Berkeley's Physics faculty. There are investigations of the Manhattan Project and increased sensitivity among UC administrators about the reputation of the University.

Communist forces in Greece are defeated, largely ending the civil war there. The post-war partition of Germany takes on a formal character with the establishment of governments in both West and East Germany. On April 4 the North Atlantic Treaty is signed, creating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which becomes a central force in anti-communist western Europe.

"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 international. . .America was disquieted and the uneasiness of the times could not help but penetrate the consciousness of the trustees of California's state university."

David Gardner, writing in The California Oath Controversy, UC Press, 1967, page 11.

January

As anti-communist sentiment fills the California State Legislature, University of California administrators discuss whether the University should require an anti-communist oath of the faculty. The thought is that if the University takes action on its own to establish an oath, stronger legislation detrimental to the University could be forestalled. Thirteen bills introduced by Senator Jack Tenney are in the Legislature. One of them would amend the State Constitution by giving the Legislature power to determine the loyalty of University employees. Seven of the bills ultimately proceed through the Legislature and are voted on by the Assembly on June 24. All are defeated and none become law. However, up through May they appeared to have a serious chance of winning approval of the Legislature, and this influences the way UC administrators and Regents act on matters related to anti-communism.

January 26
UCLA's Institute of Industrial Relations asks Provost Clarence Dykstra for permission to sponsor a lecture on campus by Harold Laski. Laski is a member of the British Labour Party and a professor at the University of London. Permission is granted, based on the assumption that Laski will also deliver a lecture at Berkeley. Event organizers soon discover that Laski has time to lecture at only one UC campus; however, it is some time before this information reaches Dykstra.

February 15
Provost Dykstra of UCLA approves allowing the Graduate Students' Association to sponsor a debate on campus between Professor Herbert Phillips, a member of the Communist party who has recently been fired by the University of Washington, and Professor Merritt Benson, a Professor of Journalism at the University of Washington. The subject of the debate is whether Communists can act as free and impartial scholars. The firing of Phillips and another UW faculty member has drawn national attention to issues of political ideologies in higher education and provoked fears that Communists are influencing American college students. Dykstra conditions his approval of the debate on a requirement that only graduate students be admitted to the debate. Undergraduates protest and petition for a larger audience. Dykstra turns down the request, leading to student and faculty complaints that the University does not allow sufficient discussion of political and religious issues on campus. University administrators point to long-standing policies prohibiting the use of campus facilities for politically-related activities.

February 25
The Regents of the University of California meet. They discuss the Phillips debate in Executive Session. Several Regents are critical of Dykstra's decision to allow the debate, including influential Regents from Southern California who were instrumental in helping to create the UCLA campus.. Dykstra is asked to attend the Regents' meeting in April.

 

Compiled by Steve Finacom

 

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Last updated 12/15/03.