Monday, March 03, 2008

Loyalty Oaths

California requires that its public school teachers and professors sign a loyalty oath, which states in part that they will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

I've written about a similar topic before, but now the news in education circles is that a graduate student/instructor at CSU East Bay (formerly CSU Hayward) has been fired for not signing such an oath.

This instructor is a Quaker--of the same or similar faith as my great-great-great grandfather when he was drafted, at age 44, into the Union Army to fight in the Civil War. The instructor wanted to add the word "non-violently" into the oath before signing it, but was not allowed to. She turned down the option of signing it but attaching a separate paper explaining her beliefs. She didn't take that route, and was axed.

Tough noogies. To a certain extent.

Joanne Jacobs has posted on this subject, and she thinks California should get rid of such loyalty oaths. I disagree. As I commented on her post:

One thing I *do* accept, though: no government agency should be compelled to hire or retain any individual who seeks seeks the destruction of that government...In this particular instance, since the loyalty oath didn’t say anthing about violence, I don’t see why this instructor saw fit to modify it. If she wanted to make a point, she chose a poor method of doing so.

Another commenter there pointed out that the Supreme Court has ruled that such "affirmative" loyalty oaths do not require a person to take active steps to support and defend the Constitution; rather, "they embody 'simply a commitment to abide by our constitutional system … [and] a commitment not to use illegal and constitutionally unprotected force to change the constitutional system.' "

I say, let's just change the wording of the oath to reflect that. The professors who have commented at the InsideHigherEd link above clearly don't agree with me, or with any type of loyalty oath, at all.

And you wonder why I always warn you about academia, the only place in America where communism is alive and well.

I'd recommend reading both the InsideHigherEd and the Joanne Jacobs posts, as well as the comments afterward. You'll get some interesting viewpoints, and quite a bit of knowledge about the subject matter.


Ronnie said...

I remember when I was a paid tutor at Rio I had to sign one of those loyalty oaths and was relatively surprised such things existed in this day and age. I personally think one shouldn't be made to sign loyalty oaths in general and that the wording "defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic" was definitely going too far.

The main problem I see with this particular oath is that it seems Cal State East Bay didn't care whether or not she believed in what the oath stated, just whether or not she signed it. This to me sounds a lot like your argument against rules that aren't enforced, if they don't really care if she is going to "defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic" why bother having anyone sign it?

Darren said...

Because it's the law.

CSU East Bay was just following the law. The issue with the oath needs to be taken up with the legislature, not with CSUEB.

Dr Pezz said...

Brutus said it best:

"No, not an oath...
Swear priests and cowards and men cautelous,
Old feeble carrions and such suffering souls
That welcome wrongs; unto bad causes swear
Such creatures as men doubt; but do not stain
The even virtue of our enterprise,
Nor the insuppressive mettle of our spirits,
To think that or our cause or our performance
Did need an oath;"

Darren said...

If I'm understanding Brutus correctly, then, most teachers and professors should have to sign a loyalty oath.

Dr Pezz said...

No. He is saying that an oath makes a weak person feel strong. Saying an oath means a person does not have the resolve to maintain beliefs without a public display. The independent inner strength of belief should be enough. Essentially, Brutus says oaths are for the weak of mind and character; they are unnecessary.

Admittedly however, I love watching the swearing in of the President. :)

Darren said...

And I stand by my last comment :-)

Anonymous said...

A followup. From SFGate:

“(03-07) 18:22 PST HAYWARD — A Cal State East Bay math teacher and practicing Quaker who was fired for refusing to sign a state-required loyalty oath got her job back this week, with an apology from the university and a clarification that the oath does not require employees to take up arms in violation of their religious beliefs.

In a grievance hearing Thursday conducted in a telephone conference call, an attorney for the California State University chancellor’s office presented Kearney-Brown with a statement saying in part, “Signing the oath does not carry with it any obligation or requirement that public employees bear arms or otherwise engage in violence.”
With that statement stapled to the loyalty oath, and a promise by the university to present the clarifying language to other new employees, Kearney-Brown said Friday that she felt comfortable signing the form and returning to work.”

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

Admiral Chester Nimitz was against requiring loyalty oaths when the issue first came about.

(Cf. E.B Potter's Nimitz, naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md., 1976, pp. 454.)

Do you think he was a Communist?

His reasoning, btw, was that disloyal people would have no problem falsely swearing while it was insulting to demand such an oath of people who were loyal.

I had no idea this was still a requirement until I read the news articles a few days ago-I thought they'd listened to Nimitz back in the 1950s.

Marty Busse

Darren said...

No, Marty, I don't. I merely think Admiral Nimitz was looking through rose-colored glasses.

Of course loyalty oaths aren't going to stop people who are dishonorable. They serve the useful function, though, of reminding employees who they are ultimately responsible to on the job--the public, and the government that hires them.

Anonymous said...

When those loyalty oaths were first put forth, they were sold as means to weed out the disloyal-not as methods to remind employees who they were ultimately responsible to.

If that is their purpose nowadays, perhaps the California Constitution (specifically, Article XX, Section 3) should be changed.

I note that a lot of other states (49 out of 50, as far as I can tell) do not seem to need a loyalty oath originally sold as a Communist fighting measure to remind their teachers of their responsibilities.

Will you remove edit your post? I think

And you wonder why I always warn you about academia, the only place in America where communism is alive and well.

is making an implication about people who oppose the oath which isn't necessarily true.

Marty Busse

Darren said...

While I can see how you'd infer the "no loyalty oath = communist" link, that wasn't what I had in mind. What I had in mind there was that discredited, disloyal ideas thrive in academia, which is where the woman in the story sought employment.

It was a swipe at academia.