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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

 

May-June 1949


May 9
The University’s Faculty Bulletin is mailed out, including a statement that "acceptance letters" for 1949-50 appointments to the faculty will contain a new oath which must be signed before faculty can receive their salaries.

The notice, signed by Robert M. Underhill, Secretary of the Regents, reads:

"The Regents of the University have directed me to include in acceptance letters when 1949-50 appointments are made an oath of allegiance in the form to be set forth therein, and that all faculty and employees must take the oath as part of the acceptance. This procedure is about to go into effect for new appointees for the remainder of this fiscal year, but persons taking the oath of allegiance now will not be required to do so again on next annual appointments. Salary checks cannot be released until acceptance letters have been returned to this office properly signed before a Notary Public."

This is the first notice many faculty have seen of the new policy; the information comes at the end of the semester, and does not include the text of the new oath. The Bulletin was originally scheduled to go out as much as two weeks earlier, but printing problems delay its release. The delay causes much suspicion among the faculty that the late notice was purposely timed to take place at the end of the semester.

June

Newspapers are full of reports about investigations of alleged Communist activity across the country. The perjury trial of Alger Hiss is underway, security arrangements at the Atomic Energy Commission are being investigated, and the House Un-American Activities Committee is not only holding hearings on alleged "subversion" at Berkeley’s Radiation Laboratory during World War II, but has announced its intention to survey college textbooks, looking for what it regards as subversive or dangerous ideas.

A UC administrator tells the press that "We don’t like the idea of oaths--nobody does. But in the face of the cold-war hysteria we are now experiencing, something had to be done."

June 7
The Northern Section of the Academic State meets and passes a resolution that the oath requirement should be discussed at a special meeting on June 14.

June 11
President Sproul’s office releases the formal text of the oath. It requires a statement that "I do not believe in and am not a member of, nor do I support any party or organization that believes in, advocates, or teaches the overthrow of the United States government by force or violence."

June 14
The Northern Section of the Academic Senate holds a special meeting, drawing a large crowd of faculty. Most of the faculty present agree that they are loyal citizens and are willing to take the required constitutional oath, but many object to the special new oath. They feel it is ambiguous, an undesirable "political test" for faculty, a violation of academic freedom, and an act that implies guilt by association. Professor Ernst Kantorowicz, a renowned medievalist scholar, reads a statement reviewing the history of oaths and "indicating the grave dangers residing in the introduction of a new, enforced oath. . ." He says that throughout history imposed oaths have been dangerous and calls the oath, "a shameful and undignified action...an affront and a violation of both human sovereignty and professional dignity that the Regents of this University have dared to bully the bearer of this (academic) gown into a situation in which--under the pressure of a bewildering economic coercion--he is compelled to give up either his tenure or, together with his freedom of judgment, his human dignity and his responsible sovereignty as a scholar."

The meeting passes a resolution to inform the Regents that the members of the Northern Section "although unaware of any conduct which warrants doubt about their loyalty and zeal" request that the special oath be removed or revised, after consultation with the Academic Senate. An Advisory Committee of the faculty is empowered to work with President Sproul to find a solution; however, there is confusion as to whether the Advisory Committee is empowered to only consult, or actually negotiate on behalf of the faculty.

June 18
The Advisory Committee meets with President Sproul and proposes that the oath be modified to a statement of University policy on the employment or retention of Communists which signers would acquiesce to.

June 20
The Southern Section of the Academic Senate meets and adopts the same resolutions as the Northern Section.

June 21
The Advisory Committee of the Southern Section meets with President Sproul and later writes to him saying it agrees with the Advisory Committee of the Northern Section.

June 24
The Regents hold their regular meeting. They approve a resolution reaffirming their 1940 anti-communist policy and requiring an oath that incorporates some of the Advisory Committee’s suggestions on wording, but also inserting an explicit statement that the signer is not a Communist; this reads, ". . .that I am not a member of the Communist Party, or under any oath, or a party to any agreement, or under any commitment that is in conflict with my obligations under this oath."

By this point the semester has ended and the faculty can no longer be gathered in large numbers. Many faculty members continue to feel the Regents and/or the University administration purposely timed the oath approval to make an organized faculty response difficult.

On the same day the State Assembly votes down the various bills proposed by Senator Tenney.

June 27
The first formal meeting of "non-signers" of the Oath is held at Berkeley’s Faculty Club. Sixty members of the faculty attend. They oppose both new and old oaths and declare that the Advisory Committee was not empowered to act on behalf of the faculty in negotiating the new oath without referring its proposals back to the Academic Senate for review. The non-signers decide as a practical matter they should try to get the oath postponed or removed from letters of acceptance for the fall semester so the issue can be discussed again in the Fall.

June 28
The chairman of the Advisory Committee discusses the views of the non-signers views with President Sproul.

June 30
The Regents Committee on Finance and Business Management meets in San Francisco. They have heard of the growing faculty opposition, and Sproul tells them that a number of senior faculty are concerned but will be reasonable if "we do not push them about". Sproul suggests that the oath not be combined with the employment contract for a year. Sproul’s approach is to work with the faculty to reduce to a minimum the number of non-signers.

Sproul follows up the next week by meeting with Professors Hildebrand and Lehman, who urge that the letter Sproul sends to the faculty regarding employment contracts and the oath be moderate. They feel this will reduce faculty opposition. Sproul agrees, and Lehman and Hildebrand plan to meet with the dissenting faculty.

There are unofficial statements from the Administration that salary checks will not be held up for those who do not sign the oath.

 

Compiled by Steve Finacom

 

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