Employees of the University of California have to sign a state oath of allegiance, declaring they will defend the state constitution and the U.S. Constitution. As unusual as this oath seems, it was even more bizarre 78 years ago.
On Feb. 27, 1950, the Daily Bruin reported about the UC Regents issuing an ultimatum to faculty: every member had to sign a loyalty oath declaring non-allegiance to communism and the Communist Party by April 30 of that year. The UC would remove noncompliant employees effective June 30, 1950.
The Regents had voted 12-6 a on Feb. 24, 1950 to make nonallegiance to communism an official policy. The vote came amid the height of the Red Scare, when government officials were going overboard with anti-communism initiatives. Among those voting against the motion was then-Gov. Earl Warren, who would later go on to become the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The policy originated from a Regents announcement made June 24, 1949, stating they would require employees to sign the oath. However, they hadn’t set a hard deadline on the oath back then.
”Further discussions have now been held and the Regents have decided that as trustees of the people of California, they must continue to safeguard the freedom of the University against ruthless, fanatical and subversive minorities in the body politic, such as the Communist Party,” the Regents said in a statement.
They also brought up that 86.5 percent of UC employees had already signed the oath at the time.
Faculty members who had already opposed the oath were upset with this development. A committee on the Academic Senate led the immediate opposition to the ultimatum. It reported that some faculty members who had already signed the oath were considering withdrawing their signatures to eventually force the courts to decide the legality of a firing.
Reactions from UCLA faculty were similar. On Feb 28, 1950, the Bruin reported feelings of resentment, indignation and caution from faculty.
“I am deeply shocked that 12 Regents should take so uncompromising and intolerant an attitude toward the carefully considered recommendations of the Senate to reach this common objective,” said Carl C. Epling, vice chairman of the southern section of the UC Academic Senate.
Most of the faculty the Bruin contacted refused to go on the record but expressed anger privately. Understandable, considering the the Regents’ hysteria at the time.
Dr. Donald A. Piatt, chairman of the department of philosophy, was one such professor who declined to comment.
“I’d rather wait until I calm down,” he added.
Chemistry professor Dr. G. Ross Robertson was more vocal.
“There are no communists on the faculty; there are plenty of liberals,” he said. “This is a new brand of witch hunting and the oath is just an insult.”
Later in the week, faculty members made their dissent more official. The March 2, 1950 edition of the Daily Bruin reported that the Faculty committee of the UC Academic Senate issued a statement ripping the Regents. “A tragic error has been made which, if not corrected, will reduce the university to the status of a second-rate institution,” read the statement signed by 50 UC deans.
The statement declared this was the most unified the faculty had been in UC history. It also pointed out that the Regents’ statistic on 86.5 percent of employees signing the oath was misleading, since that figure included janitors, policemen and guards, not just faculty. Joel H. Hildebrand, dean of the College of Chemistry, said that the regents had ignored a request from the senate for a breakdown of how many professors had signed oath.
Faculty members wanted to make it clear that they were not supporting communism.
“It abhors all totalitarian beliefs and has said so repeatedly … but virtually to a man the faculty protests the Regents’ right to wreck the University by firing men for no other reason than a nonsigning of a particular oath,” the statement added.
Ultimately, the UC ended up firing some employees for not signing the oath. However, in 1952, the California Supreme Court declared the oath ultimatum to be unconstitutional, bringing an end to the controversy. As the decade progressed, the Red Scare eventually subsided.
Fast-forward to 2018, and you don’t see the Regents laying down crazy ultimatums. And they are also noticeably less interactive with faculty – though that might be for the best.