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








September-October 1949

September 6
Sproul meets with the Advisory Committees, which tell him that the withholding of appointment letters from non-signers during the summer had been the major source of faculty hostility. Sproul agrees to attend the Academic Senate meeting on September 19, and suggests that the Advisory Committees recommend the Senate ask the Regents accept, instead of the signed oaths, “an affirmation by the Senate of the Regents’ policy on communism and that the faculty be not required to take any oath beyond that which they have taken for the past eight or ten years.”

Faculty opposing the oath have prepared a resolution for Academic Senate consideration stating that the oath “has impaired the morale of the faculty. . .it has injured the University’s reputation in the academic world. . .it has handicapped the University in attracting a continuous flow of young scholars.” The resolution also focuses on the issue of tenure, stating that “it seems evident that, if the terms under which tenure of faculty members is secured are liable to unilateral or arbitrary change, tenure itself ceases to be a fact.” 

September 19
The Northern Section of the Academic Senate meets, with some 650 voting members present. President Sproul tells the faculty that no faculty member “who regards the regents’ policy as unwise will ‘be deemed to have severed his connection with the University.’ " He states that about one half of the academic personnel on the northern UC campuses have signed the oath, but the method of calculating that number is disputed. Sproul adds that no one will lose their jobs without “traditional consultation with the (Academic Senate) Committee on Privilege and Tenure.”

The faculty passes two resolutions. The first pledges support for the prohibition of “the employment of persons whose commitments or obligations to any organization, Communist or other, prejudice impartial scholarship and the free pursuit of truth.” The second resolution requests that Academic Senate members be allowed to sign the constitutional oath, with the implication that no other oath is required.

September 22
The Southern Section of the Academic Senate meets and supports the Northern Section’s positions and actions, but adds a stronger statement that to be objectionable outside commitments by faculty must “demonstrably prevent objective teaching and the free pursuit of truth.”

September 23
The Regents meet, hear the faculty resolutions, and appoint a committee to confer with the Academic Senate’s Advisory Committees. Sproul suggests that appointment letters be issued without the oath in order to allay faculty concerns. Some Regents are concerned that the reputation of the Board is in danger if it backs off its earlier positions on the oath. They also feel that the Academic Senate had changed its position and repudiated what the Board felt the Senate Advisory Committees had agreed to earlier in the summer. They believe that the Regents acted to create an oath primarily in response to President Sproul’s suggestions and the impression that the Academic Senate would support an oath, but now the Regents are being unfairly portrayed as unilateral oath proponents. The Board agrees that September paychecks can be released, but does not support Sproul’s recommendation that the oath be separated from the 1949-50 faculty contracts. The Board is not, however, ready to dismiss any faculty for not signing. 

September 27
The House Un-American Activities Committee holds hearings on alleged Communist infiltration of the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley (later to become the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory). One witness, Irving David Fox, a student Teaching Assistant in the Berkeley Physics Department, refuses to answer some of the Committee’s questions. The questions include, “Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of the United States?” “Were you a member of the Communist cell at the Radiation Laboratory?” “Was your father a member of the Communist Party?” 

September 28
Sproul meets with the northern Advisory Committee, telling them that the Board feels the Academic Senate has put it in a difficult position and saying that he personally agrees with the Regents on their anti-communist policy. 

September 29
The Regents Committee and the Advisory Committees meet in San Francisco. Professor Lehman explains that the faculty tend to deliberate slowly. They felt rushed into a decision in June, shortly after they learned of the Regents actions on the oath, and after more time and considered debate had come to different views. Regents say they feel betrayed by the changes in the Academic Senate positions between June and September. The faculty representatives express the fear of many faculty that few of them would support Communist faculty, but if Communists are excluded from the University as a group, by policy, what is to prevent the University from later choosing to exclude other groups or viewpoints? Regent Neylan responds that Communists are not a group but a criminal conspiracy and that banning them from the University would not set a precedent. Four hours of inconclusive discussion occur.

This is the first time in a quarter century that formal negotiations had taken place in the University of California directly between faculty and Regents, without the President of the University as a formal intermediary. Historians later characterize this as an example of the seriousness of the controversy.

September 30
The Regents meet and their Committee reports that it recommends reaffirmation of the ban on Communist party members as UC employees and reaffirmation of the oath requirement. Faculty representatives speak. The Board agrees that contract letters for the year should be released to non-signers and that an informal affirmation be accepted for the year rather than a formal oath. Further discussion is promised.

With the deadline to sign the oaths falling on the next day, many faculty non-signers opposed to the oath go ahead and sign in order to keep their jobs.

October 7, 10, 25, and November 7 and 14
Several meetings of the Northern and Southern Sections of the Academic Senate occur. The Senate votes for a statement of “complete agreement upon the objectives of the University (anti-communist) policy” but also appoints a Conference Committee to continue negotiations with The Regents and states that the Senate is not agreeing with the Regents non-Communist policy but only its objectives, that is impartial scholarship and the free pursuit of truth. The Committee is instructed to avoid committing the faculty to approval of an oath that is a political test and constitutes guilt by association. Because the meeting on October 22 runs late, the number of faculty voting on various resolutions declines. By a vote of 148 - 113 the Northern Section approves a resolution which states, in part, “The public responsibility of the Regents is to create and maintain the conditions necessary to the University’s life. The power of the Regents must accordingly be exercised not only with due regard for those principles of freedom of thought and association which constitutionally limit the power of all public officials but also with deep respect for the essential nature of a University as an institution peculiarly dedicated to freedom of mind...Academic Freedom is a system of government which cannot be violated without frustrating the purpose for which Universities are created.” Some members of the Regents view this resolution as a direct attack on the Board, which intensifies the controversy.

October 21
Regents meet and direct President Sproul to send a letter to all non-signers requesting signature to the oath or an equivalent affirmation. The letters are mailed on October 22, and create additional anger among faculty members.


Compiled by Steve Finacom


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Last updated 12/15/03.