Speaking of weirdly retrograde discourse, did you know that the state of California requires public university employees (including faculty) to sign a “loyalty oath?” Among the personnel paperwork I got from SFSU was a form asking me to put my John Hancock to this:
“I, ____________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.”
This, of course, is a hold over from the days of McCarthyism, a back-handed attempt to ferret out communists (“back-handed” because it doesn’t take the more direct route of asking you to say “I am not a communist”). I actually agonized for a while about whether to sign the thing, for a number of reasons:
- I’m a Quaker, and Quakers have historically objected to the taking of oaths. Our thinking is that there shouldn’t be two standards of truth–one for everyday discourse, and one for oath-taking. That is, you ought to tell the truth whether your hand is on a bible or not.
- Quakers also don’t believe in war. I’m not willing to sign on to “support and defend” one, let alone two constitutions if it involves violence against others.
- There’s something awfully absurd (and funny) about the idea of university faculty taking up arms to defend the constitution. Does that tweed sportcoat come in camouflage?
- Whoever wrote this oath probably didn’t really have armed professors in mind, but it’s likely that they imagined using it to force “loyal” faculty to name names. I’ve got a problem with that, too.
- Who decides who these “enemies” are? My sense is that the constitution could use some defending against some of the people currently occupying the White House.
- It’s essentially unenforceable.
This last, in my book, isn’t really a knock against it. In fact, it’s pretty much why I went ahead and signed the thing, despite these objections. That, and that parenthetical “affirm” (as opposed to “swear”) made me feel like I could sign my name without compromising too much. I also didn’t want to make a big fuss about it.
However, I learned just this week that the Cal State system has begun allowing employees to attach an addendum to the loyalty oath that registers these sorts of objections. A lecturer at CSUF, who had lost her job because she refused to sign (she was a Quaker, by the way), recently got her job back because of this. There’s an article in Inside Higher Ed about the case. So, even though I already signed mine, I’m going to try to get an addendum added to my personnel file, just so everyone’s clear about what I’m agreeing to.
Just to be clear: I do not object to the oath because I’ve got a problem with loyalty as such. At the end of the day, I’m comfortable saying (but not swearing) that I would support and defend (nonviolently) this country and its form of government, however imperfect. In the larger scheme of things, the fact that we’ve got such a process for negotiating the needs of conscience (however belated, in this case) suggests that this is a place worth preserving.