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








March-April 1950

March 1
Newspapers report that State Senator Jack Tenney charges he has found a Communist Party member on the University payroll. He does not release a name.

Faculty hold a press conference at Berkeley to announce they will fight the Regents' action. Attacks on the Regents' position begin immediately. Dean Prosser of Berkeley’s Law School tells the press that the oath is seen by the faculty the same way one would view “a demand that each individually sign an oath that he is not a bigamist and is not operating a house of prostitution.”

Newspapers report that Governor Earl Warren has issued a statement opposing the loyalty oath, saying it was an “oath any Communist would take--and laugh about it.” 

In general, press reports paint the faculty position in an unfavorable light. A series of national and international events have heightened public anxiety about the spread of Communism, and the faculty focus on the tenure and academic freedom issues tends to be obscured in the press coverage.

March 2
The San Francisco Chronicle, the only major California newspaper to support the faculty position, editorializes:

“This thing--this frantic, self-crippling retreat--is not unique in today’s international climate. . .It is an outgrowth of the cold war, and one that must be pleasant for the Kremlin to behold. For if the totalitarians can scare us out of our prized freedoms--if they can frighten us into the limitation of intellectual horizons and the fettering of imagination and initiative--that is one phase of their victory that has cost them nothing. . .In brief, this is no private struggle over at Berkeley; some part of the welfare of each of us is at stake. We suggest that all of those who believe that academic freedom is essential to democracy take off their gloves and step into this fight.” 

March 4
President Sproul issues a statement saying that “the welfare of the University would not be served by insisting upon a special form of oath as the single method of implementing, through the faculty, the Regents’ policy of excluding Communists from University employment.” This is a public break with the Regents and a significant statement because Sproul would be responsible as the chief administrative officer of the University, for enforcing the Regents’ action.

March 6
A meeting drawing 8,000 students, sponsored by the ASUC, is held in Berkeley’s Greek Theatre to hear a discussion of the oath issues. Regent Neylan sends word he is sick, but sends a message asking “As a constructive step toward the solution of this situation, why does the Academic Senate not adopt a policy in plain English unequivocally endorsing the policy excluding Communists?” Some faculty see this as an overture towards a possible solution.

March 7
The Northern Section of the Academic Senate meets, drawing about 750 members to Wheeler Hall. The Senate votes, unanimously, a resolution rejecting “the special oath, and the arbitrary dismissal of loyal members of the faculty for refusal to sign this oath.” The Senate also prepares to conduct a secret ballot vote among its members on two propositions: Proposition 1 provides that faculty members should indicate acceptance of the regents’ anti-communist policy in future employment contracts. Proposition 2 proposes the policy that “proved members of the Communist Party, by reason of such commitments to that party, are not acceptable as members of the faculty”.

Many of the faculty present meet informally after the Senate meeting ends and organize to fight the oath, appointing a “Committee of Seven” to take the lead.

March 8
The Southern Section of the Academic Senate meets and takes actions similar to those of the Northern Section. 

For three weeks, through March 21, the faculty receives an outpouring support from other academic communities around the country, including legal defense fund contributions. Ultimately, by late April, some 700 separate letters and statements of support from faculty at other universities are received.

March 13
Mrs. Miriam Brooks Sherman, who is employed in a non-academic position as a piano player for dance and exercise classes at the Department of Physical Education for Women at UCLA, is called before a Dean at UCLA and asked about her involvement with Communist organizations. She refuses to answer, based on “personal and constitutional rights." Mrs. Sherman is later identified in the newspapers as the “Communist” Senator Tenney had charged was a University employee earlier in the year. 

March 22
Results of the vote on the two Academic Senate propositions. The Faculty vote in favor of both by substantial margins. Regent Neylan expresses support for the Faculty vote, saying it represents “civilization versus barbarism." Many faculty believe that the faculty have given up fundamental civil and academic liberties by supporting the propositions. 

March 25
Several faculty leaders meet privately with Professor Ralph Chaney, a Berkeley paleontologist who is acting as an informal intermediary for Regent Neylan. Neylan has put forward a proposal that there be an alternative to the oath developed and faculty would be asked to sign one of two alternate contracts. The faculty leaders reject the proposal. They argue that it was the understanding of the faculty that if the Academic Senate supported the Regents’ opposition to Communists on the faculty--as the voters in the secret ballot did indeed do--the Regents would withdraw the oath. The faculty leaders feel betrayed. To widen the breach, Neylan is reported as being even more adamant about retaining the oath in some form, having been angered by the number of faculty (about one in five) who voted in the secret ballot against the policy excluding Communists from the faculty. 

March 26-27
The American Association of University Professors holds its national convention in Cleveland and reaffirms its policy against dismissal of faculty solely on the basis of their membership in a particular organization such as the Communist Party. This position runs contrary to the vote of the UC faculty in the mail ballot, since a majority of UC Academic Senate members had voted in favor of the resolution supporting the Regents policy against employing members of the Communist Party. 

Governor Warren appoints two new Regents and reappoints Regent Giannini. This shifts the balance on the Board slightly in favor of those Regents who sympathize with the faculty, but not enough to change the majority opinion of the Board.

March 31
Regents meeting. Regent Neylan, in contrast to his earlier encouraging statements about the faculty position, is again critical of the faculty. He feels that a minority of the faculty (the non-signers) is in control and states “now is the time to find out if that minority is going by threat and menace to run the University of California.” The debate has shifted from the issue of Communists on the faculty--which the Academic Senate has joined The Regents in opposing--to a power struggle between the Regents and the faculty in the governance of the University. Neylan leads the Regents faction arguing that the Board cannot back down and lose authority. Governor Warren leads those who would prefer to compromise with the faculty and end the controversy. The Regents split 10-10 on a motion to withdraw the dismissal ultimatum. The ultimatum stands. 

The faculty is demoralized and many different views are expressed. Most of the non-signers continue to say they will not sign, but some say they will hold out through April 30, then sign for economic reasons. Some signers ask that their oaths be returned so they can join the non-signers, other faculty who have signed say they will resign if any faculty are dismissed. Academic freedom and tenure are now the primary concerns of the faculty, which fears that the developments of the controversy will ultimately give the Regents absolute control of the University. The faculty “Committee of Seven” decides to lobby individual Regents to change their votes. 

April 2
President Sproul meets at Berkeley’s Durant Hotel (now the off campus headquarters of the “non-signers”) with the Committee of Seven. They urge Sproul to publicly support the faculty position. Sproul feels that he will lose his job if that occurs, and would be replaced by a new President indebted to the Neylan faction on the Board.

April 4
President Sproul privately proposes an administrative policy that would implement the Regents policy but would not assume a non-signer was a member of the Communist Party and would thus not require their dismissal. This is reviewed by Neylan, who does not support it, seeing it as giving in to the non-signers.

April 7
Three Regents, Dickson, Giannini, and Neylan, release a statement critical of the faculty, saying in part, “preparations are being made once more to intimidate the regents.” 

April 11
In response to rumors that he will resign or be forced to resign, Sproul issues a statement saying that they are only rumors and “my participation in the loyalty oath discussion has been confined to efforts to clarify the facts and the issues, and to promote a decision in accordance with them upon which faculty and Regents might agree.” Behind the scenes, Regents in Neylan’s faction affirm that they support Sproul as President and would not want him to resign.

April 15
Regent Hale, President of the California Alumni Association, says an alumni committee is working to find a compromise. The Chairman is Stephen D. Bechtel, a Berkeley alumnus. The committee writes to and meets with various participants in the dispute, seeking a compromise. 

April 18
245 faculty members and other employees of Stanford University release a letter supporting UC faculty and sending contributions to their legal fund.

April 19
The alumni committee on the oath reports to the Alumni Council. The committee is supportive of retaining the oath, but also of giving faculty non-signers due process. The faculty generally view the recommendations as not supportive of their cause.

April 20
University of Chicago faculty vote for a two-percent voluntary contribution of salary to support the legal fund. Faculty also organize in support at other Universities from Columbia and Harvard to Wisconsin and Illinois. 

April 21
Regents meet. President Sproul presents a resolution very similar to what the alumni committee had recommended, requiring faculty to swear to the State constitutional oath and to accept an appointment letter in part by stating, “I am not a member of the Communist Party. . .” Those who do not sign the oath and letter of acceptance would retain the right to petition the Committee on Privilege and Tenure of the Academic Senate and the President for a review of his reasons for not signing, although the Regents would retain authority to dismiss a faculty member for not signing. In essence, the proposal maintained some degree of tenure right but supported the Regents’ position on the other issues, including the exclusion of Communists from UC employment and the right of the Regents to impose an oath.

By a 21-1 vote the Regents adopt the proposal. Regent Giannini, who casts the one dissenting vote, resigns from the Board. 

April 22
The Northern section of the Academic Senate meets and hears some faculty leaders urge support for the Regents “compromise." Professor Tolman announces that he will not sign the new contract of employment and will ask for a hearing before the Committee on Privilege and Tenure. The Senate approves a motion stating that the principles of tenure would be violated if the Regents dismissed any faculty member not found by the Committee on Privilege and Tenure to be a Communist or someone whose commitments prevented the free pursuit of truth. The faculty begin to divide again. The non-signers hope to encourage large numbers of their colleagues to join them, demonstrating that the faculty remained opposed to infringements on its academic freedom and tenure rights, and rendering the hearing process unworkable. Many faculty, however, see the alumni sponsored “compromise” as an end to the dispute. 

April 26
Faculty are mailed copies of the Regents’ resolutions and appointment letters and the constitutional oath to sign. The letter of acceptance had previously stated simply the amount of salary the faculty member would receive. The new letter is revised, stating that “you have been appointed Professor of _____ for the period July 1, 1949 to June 30, 1950...” Many faculty see this as a significant change, even more dangerous that the oath, because the new wording essentially states that the Regents are, in effect, reappointing tenured faculty from year to year not simply approving the salaries of faculty already in office. This would have the effect of eliminating tenure, or the right to remain on the faculty unless dismissed for just cause, after a review by one’s faculty peers.

April 30
University officials note that Mrs. Sherman, the suspected Communist-sympathizer piano player employed at UCLA, has a sister with an academic appointment in the Department of Physical Education for Women at UCLA and that this is “nepotism” forbidden by University regulations. Mrs. Sherman is called from the middle of a class and told she has been dismissed and to leave the UCLA campus immediately. She is paid the remainder of the salary that would be due to her under her one year contract. The nepotism charge is seen by many faculty as a pretext to get rid of a suspected Communist employee. After this Regental action faculty say to one another in irony, “I’ve sold my piano. It was too dangerous to have around.”


Compiled by Steve Finacom


Copyright © 2002-2005
The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.
Last updated 12/15/03.