The the Los Angeles Times reported May 2 that a lecturer at California State University at Fullerton got the ax because she refused to sign a loyalty oath to defend the U.S. and California Constitutions “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
That sounds like an oath that members of the military would take, or public officials like governors or presidents — not university professors.
The latest victim of the misbegotten requirement is Wendy Gonaver, a Quaker from Pennsylvania and a lifelong pacifist, who was to teach American studies this year. Given her subject matter, Gonaver is very familiar with the anti-Communist fervor that spurred California voters to approve the loyalty oath in 1952, but also with Constitutional protections.
Gonaver told the Times that she had offered to sign the oath if she could attach a short statement expressing her views, but Fullerton wouldn’t allow that.
There’s hope for her, though. Earlier this year, news-media attention led to the rehiring of another faculty member who had been fired for inserting the word “nonviolently” before signing the oath.
One would think, at the very least, that a professor could substitute the word “support” in place of “defend,” which sounds like a commitment to join the Army if called upon. Or that one could refuse to sign an oath on religious grounds.
Respondents to a news blog at the online Chronicle of Higher Education berated school administrators for their strict interpretation of the McCarthy-esque policy. While some simply spoke of the entire situation as “idiotic” or “absurd,” others focused more on the issue of respect for Quaker beliefs, which are characteristically non-violent and see no need for oaths.
I couldn’t help but remember all the Southern Baptist missionaries who were recalled from the field or forced into early retirement because they refused to sign an equally misguided “Baptist Faith and Message” statement.
While defending the Constitution, it appears that Cal-State Fullerton administrators could benefit from a lesson on the Bill of Rights, which has something to say about respecting religious freedom.