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








January-February 1950


During the year. . .

Communist China begins the occupation of Tibet.

Congress approves the McCarran Internal Security Act, overriding a veto by President Truman. The law limits the legal rights of those accused of being communist.

Accused communist Alger Hiss is convicted of perjury and sent to prison for four years.

Over the winter holidays, the faculty Conference Committee plans for upcoming meetings with the Regents. The Committee prepares a statement that “there is no disagreement about the objectives. What is in dispute is the best means of attaining them.” The Committee feels that the oath requirement is at odds with the objectives.

January 4
The faculty Conference Committee meets with the Regents’ Committee. No agreement is reached on how to resolve the oath controversy. The Conference Committee makes a proposal that the University accept existing procedures that faculty are judged individually by their peers on the basis of “competence and character." Regent Neylan stresses the belief that the faculty created the current crisis by appearing to support the oath in June, then repudiating it in September. He states “You have to realize this Board has a right to stand on what it understood was complete agreement with representatives of the faculty.” The faculty reply that the Advisory Committee negotiations should never have been thought to represent the position of the faculty without confirmation by the Academic Senate. Neylan argues that the reputation of the University will be severely damaged if the faculty appear to be repudiating anti-communist policies of the University which had been in effect since the early 1940s. A possible compromise is explored with a suggestion that the University’s anti-communist policies be printed on the back of the employment contract.

January 12
The Regents’ Committee meets but cannot reach a conclusion to recommend to the full Board. Members are, however, united in support of the Regents policy forbidding employment of Communists by the University.

January 13
The Regents meet. For the first time Earl Warren, the newly elected Governor of California, attends a Regents meeting. He will continue to attend through the oath crisis. Warren is a close friend of President Sproul, a fellow Berkeley alumnus and classmate, and will become one of the leading Regents opposed to the University’s oath requirement.

The Regents’ Committee is discharged, and the faculty Conference Committee is told to work with President Sproul. Regent Neylan argues that the status of the Regents is at stake if they give in to the faculty, saying “we are up against a situation in which there is a great reluctance to recognize the fact that there can never be unity on this thing, except by abject submission on the part of the Regents, the President and the Senate to a minority of that faculty.” Regent Mario Giannini (son of A.P. Giannini, founder of the Bank of America and a former Regent), states that “This is one of the issues which tells whether the Regents are going to run the University or whether the staff is going to run it.” This brings the controversy into stark contrast: is the University managed by the Regents, with the faculty essentially as corporate employees, or does “shared governance” exist, creating a role for the faculty in University decision making? At this point a majority of the Regents share Giannini’s basic view.

The Regents also clarify their position on Mr. Fox. They state he was not a member of the faculty in fact but a “teaching” employee and thus not entitled to the full due process that a faculty member facing dismissal would receive. Faculty members remain concerned that the Regents could so easily dismiss a University employee without making clear the process and specific reasons for dismissal and having a proper hearing.

The faculty Conference Committee, feeling that an explicit anti-communist policy is inevitable, offers a compromise to President Sproul. They propose that the annual contracts contain a statement of the University’s non-communist policy and that faculty members are subject to that condition, “Without thereby expressing his personal approval of that policy.”

February 9
Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy charges that there are 205 “card carrying Communists” working in the State Department. McCarthy’s charges (later found to be untrue) and the hearings held by the House Un-American Activities Committee focus American attention on communism, with strong divisions between supporters of McCarthy’s views and opponents of anti-communist “witch hunts”

February 24
The Regents meet. 42 deans and chairmen of UC departments submit a statement expressing concern about the damage to the University if otherwise loyal, non-Communist faculty are dismissed for failure to sign the oath. 

President Sproul reads letters from faculty members that present views including these:

“The faculty’s opposition to the oath took time to crystallize and the Regents had grounds for complaint that the faculty’s position was not clear at the beginning; that the opposition to the oath was not led by a small minority nor was it communist led or communist inspired; that there will be a number of faculty members with tenure who will refuse to sign the oath, and among them will be men of national and international reputation whose loyalty to the state and nation are beyond dispute.”

Sproul proposes policies that members of the Communist party should not be entitled to tenure and should be dismissed from the University after hearings by the Regents and the Academic Senate Committee on Privilege and Tenure, that full rights and privileges of tenure are secured for all other members of the faculty, and University employees can accept their positions by an oath or affirmation “subject to the policy excluding Communists from membership in the faculty of the University.” Regent Neylan objects that the proposal does not require UC employees to swear they are not members of the Communist Party, and proposes that the oath must state the signatory “is not a member of the Communist Party, or under any oath or commitment, or a party to any agreement that is in conflict with the policy of the Regents excluding Communists from membership in the faculty of the University.”

The Regents vote 12-6 for Neylan’s position faculty not signing the oath by April 30 will be separated from employment by June 30. This came to be informally called the “Sign or get out” policy. Regent Heller, who has previously opposed the oath, “announced that he thought the action taken by the Regents would be ruinous to the University and he gave notice that he would do everything he could to defeat it.”

The most critical element of the Regents action, from the faculty perspective, was the assertion by the Regents in this action that tenured faculty members would be dismissed without due process. This galvanized many faculty to action who otherwise did not have strong problems with the oath, and a degree of faculty unity was achieved that had not previously existed. 

February 25
The faculty Conference Committee meets several times and decides to conduct a publicity campaign about the faculty position and also to prepare for legal action. 

February 26
The Conference Committee meets with Academic Senate Northern Section deans and department heads, who give it a vote of confidence to oppose the Regents' action. 

February 27
150 faculty attend a meeting of non-signers at Berkeley, and most present say they will accept dismissal rather than sign the oath. 

Following this meeting, the Conference Committee works to draft a statement of the faculty position. Eventually, more than 800 faculty sign it. It includes the following: “Academic freedom does not exist where the right of tenure is not inviolate. The Regents propose suddenly to take away the right of some men to engage in any kind of research or teaching this University for a reason totally unrelated to their competence, character, or loyalty. This is not freedom as it is understood by the scholar. . .the faculty protests the Regents’ right to wreck the University by firing men for no other reason than non-signing of a particular oath, created by the Regents, without the Regents ever bothering to investigate whether these men are in fact Communists or otherwise disloyal.”

February 28
A faculty legal defense fund is started.


Compiled by Steve Finacom


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The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.
Last updated 12/15/03.