Speakers Equate Loyalty Oaths, Lie Detectors

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Lie detector tests may be the modern-day equivalents of loyalty oaths, key speakers and audience members said Friday at a campus symposium.

Panel discussions were organized to commemorate the UC Board of Regents' 1949 decision to require UC employees and faculty to swear allegiance to the U.S. Constitution and promise they were not members of the Communist Party.

In an effort to tighten security following a "spy scandal," the U.S. Department of Energy and the University of California may soon require UC laboratory employees to take lie detector tests. The scandal involved allegations that a Los Alamos

National Laboratory employee gave nuclear secrets to China.

"This requirement seems so utterly absurd to me that it cannot be a policy of the university," said Ned Goldwasser, a retired physics professor from the University of Illinois, in reference to the polygraph tests.

The lie detector tests are proof the university should not be managing labs, said UC Berkeley molecular and cell biology Professor Howard Schachman, who was teaching at the university when the loyalty oaths were enacted.

But Goldwasser said the university would be mistaken if it gave up management of the laboratories. The university's outstanding reputation attracts scientists, he said.

"(The university's) personnel guidelines are the factor making outstanding people want to work in those laboratories," he said.

Some people, however, said the issue of lie detector tests is not as important as the oath which state employees, including UC workers, are still required to sign.

"The (state) legislature in 1950 passed a constitutional amendment which modified the existing oath and created something called the levering act," said Seth Schoen, who founded an anti-loyalty oath organization after refusing to sign the state's existing oath.

Loyalty oaths still exist, Schoen said. The legislative oath, which requires state employees to pledge allegiance to the United States and California governments, is stronger than the one passed by the regents in 1949, he added.

"This was actually a loyalty oath that was worse than the one that the regents tried to impose," Schoen said.

The UC faculty was upset about the loyalty oath only because it was imposed on them by the regents, Schoen said. Faculty members accepted the levering act, however, because it was approved by the legislature, he said.

The levering act applies to all state employees up to this day, Schoen added.

"(The levering act) was added as a constitutional amendment that applied to every public employee," he said. "In the levering act they specifically mentioned the university as one of the entities it would apply to but not the only one."

Friday's session featured a panel of university professors who taught when the loyalty oath was administered in 1949.

Charles Muscatine, UC Berkeley professor of English emeritus, who went to work at Wesleyan University in Connecticut after refusing to sign the oath, said he felt compelled to return to UC Berkeley after the California Supreme Court struck down the oath in 1952.

"I think the reason we came back was not to spite the oath but because the controversy had been possible," Muscatine said. "I came back to join a faculty that was capable of this resistance."

The resistance to the oath helped create an environment that appealed to politically active students, most notably those students who founded the Free Speech Movement, Muscatine added.

"I even think that the Free Speech Movement might not have happened if these students didn't come here," he said.

The discussion panels were followed by the opening of an art exhibit featuring the work of Margaret Peterson. As an assistant professor of art at UC Berkeley in 1949, Peterson led faculty members in opposing the oath.

She was fired for refusing to sign the oath and later moved to British Columbia where she continued to work as an artist until her death in 1997.

Peterson's allies said her stand against the oath was inspiring, especially considering that she was a woman.

While many of the oath's opponents recounted the history of the oath, some speakers also chose to discuss its emotional impact on their lives.

"Sometimes I've felt noble; sometimes I've felt proud; sometimes I've felt naive; sometimes (I've felt innocent)," said UC President Emeritus David Saxon, who was dismissed from the department of physics at UCLA for refusing to sign the oath.

He said he remains proud he did not sign.

"But I have never felt that I was a loser; I've never felt that I acted in a way that was unworthy," Saxon said.


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