Tag Archives: CSU East Bay

Loyalty Oath Teacher Reinstated by CSU East Bay

A few weeks back I brought you the story of the Quaker teacher who was fired by Cal State East Bay for altering the state’s ridiculous loyalty oath to conform to her religious beliefs. Today’s LA Times reports that she has happily won her job back – with help from her fellow teachers, her union, and even Attorney General Jerry Brown.

The university, averting a showdown over religious freedom, agreed to rehire Kearney-Brown after the office of state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown helped draft a statement declaring that the oath does not commit employees to bear arms in the country’s defense….

The firing of Kearney-Brown, who also is a graduate student at the campus, brought widespread criticism from faculty members, students, Quakers and civil-liberties advocates. Some faculty members began circulating a petition objecting to it. The United Auto Workers, which represents teaching assistants, pursued a grievance on Kearney-Brown’s behalf.

“People were outraged,” said Henry Reichman, a Cal State East Bay history professor and chairman of the Academic Senate. “I was very vocal on the campus that this was an outrageous thing.”

The ultimate resolution involved Kearney-Brown getting CSUEB to attach a document to her signed oath clarifying that the oath would not require her to take up arms to defend the state or the constitution, in conformance with her Quaker beliefs. Although the university resisted this, Jerry Brown’s office produced a document that read:

“You should know that signing the oath does not carry with it any obligation or requirement that public employees bear arms or otherwise engage in violence,” read the unsigned statement. “This has been confirmed by both the United States Supreme Court . . . and the California attorney general’s office.”

Although this particular story has a happy ending – and should set a precedent for others whose religious or personal beliefs would be violated by this ridiculous oath – it still raises the question of whether or not this ridiculous anachronism still has any place in California.

It also reminds us of the importance of unions in protecting not just wages and benefits, but civil liberties. Kearney-Brown, like most CSU TAs, is represented by UAW Local 4123. (Note: I was an organizer and steward in UAW Local 4121 at UW.) With her union on her side she had legal and political power, helping her get her job back within days. It also helped that our state Attorney General was willing to step in and defend her civil liberties, as opposed to trying to trample them like some other AGs we know.

Ultimately this reminds us of the importance of coalitions to protect civil liberties. Whether it’s a loyalty oath, FISA, or waterboarding, our basic rights must be supported and protected by the public. Once we start abandoning or refusing to defend the rights of others, we will quickly find we are losing our own.

Loyalty Oaths are SO 1950s

One of the most popular stories at SFGate today is about the Quaker who was fired from her job at CSU Hayward East Bay for changing the text of the required loyalty oath that all California public employees must sign as a condition of employment:

“I don’t think it was fair at all,” said Kearney-Brown. “All they care about is my name on an unaltered loyalty oath. They don’t care if I meant it, and it didn’t seem connected to the spirit of the oath. Nothing else mattered. My teaching didn’t matter. Nothing.”

A veteran public school math teacher who specializes in helping struggling students, Kearney-Brown, 50, had signed the oath before – but had modified it each time….

Each time, when asked to “swear (or affirm)” that she would “support and defend” the U.S. and state Constitutions “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” Kearney-Brown inserted revisions: She wrote “nonviolently” in front of the word “support,” crossed out “swear,” and circled “affirm.” All were to conform with her Quaker beliefs, she said.

The school districts always accepted her modifications, Kearney-Brown said.

But Cal State East Bay wouldn’t, and she was fired on Thursday.

Unless we believe that Quakers are somehow America’s biggest threat, this should be seen as a totally ridiculous and anachronistic injustice. The loyalty oath – sometimes called the “Levering Oath” after the Republican legislator who rammed it through the state legislature in 1949-50 – was a particularly pernicious and pointless instance of McCarthyite hysteria. Republican Governor Earl Warren had initially opposed the oath, but when UC President Robert Sproul imposed the oath and fired 31 tenured professors who refused to sign it on grounds of academic freedom, Warren decided to support the oath to secure his 1950 reelection bid.

In short, the oath was created to further the political ambitions of Levering, Warren and Sproul. It did nothing to help California or the nation fight the Cold War, created deep and lasting divisions at UC, and is today seen as a rather silly piece of paper that folks sign as part of the usual fat packet of paper public workers have to sign upon accepting employment.

It’s been 59 years since the oath was created and 19 years since the Berlin Wall fell. Must we lose more qualified, dedicated, longtime teachers to this relic of the past? I know California legislators have better things to do, but if any of you politicians who are reading this site – and I know you’re out there – want to write a law to repeal this waste of paper, it would be welcome.