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Timeline: Summary of events of the Loyalty Oath Controversy 1949-54


January / February / March

• California State Senator Tenney introduces thirteen bills in reaction to suspected communists in government. University of California administrators are concerned that widespread anti-communist sentiment will result in new laws threatening the University’s traditional autonomy from direct control by the State Legislature.

• At UCLA a speaking invitation to left-wing British Labour Party activist and economist Harold Laski and an on-campus debate on Communism in higher education which includes a fired University of Washington Professor, Herbert Phillips, draw critical attention to the University from conservative Regents and the press.

• March 25. UC President Sproul proposes that UC employees, including faculty, be required to swear to a new Oath stating that they are not members of the Communist party. The UC Board of Regents approves Sproul’s proposal.


April / May / June

• UC faculty begin to learn about the new Oath requirement. Many are concerned that the Oath infringes on academic freedom.

• June 14. The Northern Section of the Academic Senate meets in Berkeley. The Senate votes to ask the Regents to revise or remove the oath. A Senate Advisory Committee is appointed to meet with President Sproul, as the semester comes to an end.

• June 24. The Regents meet and approve a revised Oath. Several Regents believe the revised proposal has been negotiated with the Academic Senate Advisory Committee and faculty concerns have thus been addressed.

• June 24. The State Assembly votes down the anti-communist Tenney bills.

• June 27. In response to The Regents vote, some sixty faculty members meet at Berkeley’s Faculty Club to organize against the Oath.


July / August / September

• President Sproul writes to faculty members requesting that the signed Oath be returned by October 1. About half of the faculty have signed by the end of August.

• Leading professors tell President Sproul that faculty opposition to the Oath is widespread and a confrontation with The Regents’ position is likely.

• September 19. The Northern Section of the Academic Senate resolutions supporting a prohibition on the University employing anyone “whose commitments or obligations to any organization, Communist or other, prejudice impartial scholarship and the free pursuit of truth.” The second resolution asks that faculty be allowed to sign the State Constitutional oath and, by implication, no other special oath.

• September 23. The Regents appoint a committee to confer with the faculty’s Advisory Committees. Many Regents felt the issue had been solved earlier in the year with the consent of the Academic Senate Advisory Committee.

• September 27. The House Un-American Activities Committee opens inquiries into alleged Communist infiltration of the Radiation Laboratory at Berkeley; faculty and staff from the “Rad Lab” played a leading role in developing the atomic bomb.

• September 29. Regents and Academic Senate representatives negotiate. The faculty state that many feel they did not have time to properly assess and respond to The Regents’ Oath action in the Spring. Regents say they feel the Academic Senate has changed its position about an Oath and put The Regents in a difficult position.

• The Regents agree that faculty appointment letters for the 1949-50 academic year will be released to faculty who have not yet signed the Oath.


October / November / December

• The Northern and Southern Divisions of the Academic Senate discuss the Oath and pass resolutions of concern and opposition, antagonizing some Regents.

• In October, the Regents direct that letters be sent to all faculty requesting they sign the oath or an equivalent affirmation.

• November 30. “Non-signers” of the Oath formally organize themselves at Berkeley, led by Edward Tolman, a respected psychology professor.

• Inconclusive meetings between Regents and faculty. In December The Regents fire a UC Berkeley Physics TA who had been called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in September and is suspected of being a Communist.


January / February / March

• Regents meet and reaffirm an anti-communist policy. California Governor Earl Warren leads Regental opposition to the Oath. He is opposed by Regents led by John Francis Neylan, who believe giving in to the faculty would compromise the governing authority of the Regents, and also fear that there are Communists within the University.

• United States Senator Joseph McCarthy makes his sensational charge (later found to be untrue) that there are more than 200 “card carrying Communists” in the United States State Department. Anti-communist sentiment is strong around the country.

• February 24. The Regents vote 12-6 for a proposal from Regent Neylan that faculty not signing the Oath by April 30 will be terminated by June 30. Faculty call this the “sign or get out policy”.

• The faculty prepare for legal action. 150 meet at Berkeley and say they will not sign and will accept dismissal. The Regents’ action is seen as a direct challenge to academic freedom and the right of tenure, since it would allow The Regents to fire tenured professors without due process, including a hearing before the Academic Senate Committee on Privilege and Tenure.

• President Sproul publicly disagrees with The Regents by saying that the welfare of the University will not be served by insisting on the Oath.

• March 6. 8,000 students attend a meeting at Berkeley to hear a discussion of the Oath issues and controversy.

• March 7. About 750 faculty attend a Northern Section of the Academic Senate meeting at Berkeley. They approve a resolution opposing The Regents action and vote to conduct a secret mail ballot among faculty on two propositions regarding whether faculty support the University’s policy against employment of Communists.

• March 22. Results of the mail vote are released. By about a four to one margin UC faculty say they oppose the University employing Communists. Many hope this will help solve the crisis, by showing most faculty and Regents agree on anti-Communism.

• Faculty colleagues and professional organizations throughout the country express support for the faculty position at UC. However, public opinion in general runs against the faculty who say they will not sign the Oath.

• March 31. The Regents meet. The debate has now shifted from the matter of Communists in the University to the issue of who controls the University. The Neylan faction on The Regents feels that backing down would compromise The Regents’ governing authority. The faculty feel that if The Regents can unilaterally add a condition of employment like the Oath and dismiss faculty solely because of it, the tradition of “shared governance” at UC and the right of tenure will have been violated. At the conclusion of the meeting the Regents split 10-10 on a motion to withdraw the February 24 ultimatum to sign the Oath. The ultimatum stands.

• Behind-the-scenes negotiations and efforts to find a further compromise continue. A committee of leading UC alumni work to find a solution.

• Faculty members are discouraged and divided. Some want the controversy to end, and see the “non-signers” as uncompromising. Others feel that that core rights and values of the academic world are at stake, and will fight to the end.


April / May / June

• April 21. By a vote of 21-1 The Regents they endorse a proposal that includes a modified Oath. Those faculty who do not sign it may have a hearing before the Academic Senate’s Committees on Privilege and Tenure, a provision included to protect due process for faculty. The Regents retain final authority to decide who stays.

• April 30. Miriam Sherman, a non-academic UCLA employee who has been suspected of having Communist sympathies is fired.

• The Academic Senate’s Committees of Privilege and Tenure begin to hold hearings into the cases of faculty who have not signed the Oath. A difference of opinion quickly develops. Some Regents who approved of the hearing process maintain that the Committees should not favorably recommend any faculty member who does not sign the Oath without a specific religious or similar reason for refusing. Many faculty maintain, however, that those opposed to the Oath on principles of academic freedom or similar reasons should receive a favorable review.

• 81 cases of non-signers are heard before the Committees, which recommend that 75 of the non-signers be retained as UC employees. Six are recommended for dismissal.

• June 23. President Sproul asks that 157 employees (academic and non-academic) be terminated for not signing the Oath or for related reasons, but that 62 of the 75 non-signers recommended by the Academic Senate Committees be retained.

• June 25. North Korea invades South Korea. The war heightens public sentiment against, and fears of, Communism, and the position of the non-signers is weakened.


July through December

• July 21. The Regents vote 10-9 to support President Sproul’s recommendations and retain the majority of the non-signing faculty, now reduced to a group of 39.

• August 25. The Regents meet, and vote 12-10 to reverse their July decision and fire the non-signers. Some sign after the vote, and a total of 31 faculty are fired. (Those fired include Tolman and David Saxon, a UCLA professor who become UC President a generation later.)

• August 31. The non-signers sue for reinstatement, in the case of Tolman v. Underhill, arguing that UC faculty are public offers under the State Constitution and are thus exempt from any special oath, that the University is required by the Constitution to be free from “political or sectarian influence” and the Oath compromised that requirement, and that the action of The Regents violates the principle of tenure. The next day the Court of Appeals issues a preliminary order staying the dismissal and requiring The Regents to explain their actions.

• September 21. Governor Warren, who had opposed the UC Oath but is up for reelection, asks the Legislature to approve a special loyalty oath for all State employees. The Legislature passes the “Levering Oath” in five days. Regent Neylan is against the Levering Oath because he feels the Legislature should not be interfering in the autonomous governing authority of The Regents.

• The Academic Senate votes to “censure” The Regents, but faculty remain deeply divided on goals, tactics, and opinions about the Oath.

• Various legal hearings occur in Tolman v. Underhill.


• The Academic Senate Committee on Academic Freedom issues a report saying that the University has been harmed by the faculty dismissals; 55 courses are not being taught because their faculty are gone, and at least 47 individuals offered faculty positions at UC have declined at least in part because of the Oath controversy.

• April 6. The Court of Appeal rules in Tolman v. Underhill against The Regents, stating that they had violated the Constitutional prohibition on political influence on the University, and that faculty are public officers as defined by the State Constitution. The case goes to the State Supreme Court on Appeal.

• October 19. The Board of Regents, with some new members, votes 12-8 to rescind the special Oath requirement but reaffirm the University policy against employing Communists. An effort by Regent Neylan to reverse the vote fails 12-5 in November. The University has returned to its earlier conditions of employment before the Oath controversy, although all UC employees must now also sign the Levering Oath required of all State employees.


• October 17. The State Supreme Court rules in Tolman v. Underhill in favor of the non-signers and orders the University to reinstate them. The Regents decide not to petition for a rehearing.


• Sixteen non-signers go to court seeking full back pay for the period they were unemployed by UC. A settlement is negotiated in March.

Compiled by Steve Finacom





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