The recent incident in which a graduate student/instructor was (temporarily) fired from a job at Cal State-East Bay for not signing a loyalty oath that violated her Quaker faith -- but that was required for hiring -- resonated with a lot of us who have been faced with signing such a document. I was shocked to find out that I had to sign a loyalty oath for one of my professor jobs. As I learned after some research into the situation, some states requires a loyalty oath of professors at both private and state institutions. In my case, among the paperwork related to the hiring process was a loyalty oath in which I had to promise to "defend" or "uphold" or .. something .. the Constitution of the state. If I didn't sign, I would be fired before I was even completely hired.
I went to the department chair and said that I couldn't sign the oath unless I knew what was in the state Constitution. He sighed and said "It's just a stupid form we all had to sign. It doesn't mean anything." He said that every once in a while some professor made an ineffectual effort to get the oath-signing removed as a condition for hiring, but the oath yet lived.
I asked if there was at least a copy of the state Constitution lying around for me to read (this was before Everything was on the Internet). No, no one had a copy of the state Constitution. What if, by signing, I was promising to sing the state song every morning? What if I had to learn the state bird, flower, mineral, motto, fish, insect, seal and flag or risk arrest? What if this state invaded my home state -- was I promising to fight against my home state even though my mother was a state employee there and I might have to take arms against my own mother? The department chair just looked weary, as if some doubts about his most recent hire were creeping into his mind. I acquired a copy of the state Constitution, skimmed it, hoped that I hadn't missed anything too dire in the fine print, and signed the oath.
What a pointless process. The signing is essentially coerced -- you have already accepted the job, may already have moved to your new college/university, have started preparing (or even teaching) your courses, and then you have to sign something based on incomplete information (unless you seek it out yourself). Under what possible circumstances would my promise to defend the state Constitution be of any use to the State? Maybe I don't want to know. Maybe that's why most of us just sign the stupid oath form, whether or not we have read it.
2 years ago