Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Blind Loyalty

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.


Anonymous said...

Gimme eat. Give everybody eat.

-- Major ______ deCoverley.

Sheesh. Joseph Heller pointed out the ridiculousness of such things in 1961.

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

I had to sign one too, and I most objected to the part where it said I wasn't allowed to sign it if I was harboring devious thoughts about how I was just signing a litle piece of paper and I didn't really mean it.

How did the person who wrote the oath know that that was exactly what I was thinking? It was like those times when you couldn't figure out how your mother knew you hadn't washed your hands before dinner.

David Moles said...

I had to sign one of those in college (UC Santa Cruz) to get an on-campus job. I've always felt a bit guilty about it, not least because the Constitution of the State of California is really quite a dog's breakfast.

Anonymous said...

Now you've promised to defend the constitution, you have to get started impeaching Bush/Cheney ;-)

sandy shoes said...

Wha-wha-what? A loyalty oath? I had never heard of this before, and I'm kind of horrified by it.

Anonymous said...

"I most objected to the part where it said I wasn't allowed to sign it if I was harboring devious thoughts about how I was just signing a little piece of paper and I didn't really mean it."

That's hilarious. How exactly do they word that in a loyalty oath? I don't remember signing one of these. But, I have a strict policy of signing them without reading or thinking about them. The angst of taking them seriously is far more than I can handle.

Anonymous said...

The California Constitution, because loyal Californians won't keep their mitts off and keep passing amendments, is the size of a small encyclopedia, and features gems such as not allowing Califonians to eat horses. I doubt I'd have time to read it before tenure.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the coercion aspect - the fact that you are expected to just do it with incomplete information - just the same as having 5 year olds starting school recite the U.S. pledge of allegience every morning?

Anonymous said...

I was very impressed she had the mettle to sign it. I had to sign it a few years ago, and I spent a lot of my fretting over it.

I'm glad the state's attorney brought people to their senses, but I almost wished that it had gone to court. Maybe that would've forced the state to get rid of it.

And I didn't know the horse thing had passed. (That's one of those bills you could tell was written by people who'd never been on a farm. Of course, there are a lot of those out there.)

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I have never heard about loyalty oaths to a state constitution as a condition of employment.

I have heard of colleges with religious affliations asking profs to sign moral decrees that basically say the prof agrees with the religious positions taken by the school, etc.

I think I were "asked" to sign, I would put on there I was signing under duress. I really think if they (assuming the school was tax payer supported) didn't make it a condition of employment prior to a prof turning down other job offers, one could sue for big money.

Shay said...

As a member of a traditionally conservative demographic (retired military), just let me state that this is just a bad idea.

And to think it pre-dates that idiotic Patriot Act.

Anonymous said...

I am an employee of the federal government. All employees must sign a loyalty oath to protect/defend the constitution, etc, etc. The most remarkable thing happened after I signed it. Nothing. That is to say, contrary to what some posters here may insinuate, I did *not* turn into a toad or any other such salamander. I even still sleep well at night. Instead, I have focussed my energies on providing the American taxpayer with value-priced health services.