My Short and Happy Life As a Distinguished Professor

An old hand at raking muck, the author balked at permitting that hand to be fingerprinted as the price of a job teaching her craft at one of California's giant campuses. Therein lay the rub; read on.

Teaching, then, was heady stuff; so was the fracas over the loyalty oath and fingerprinting that began to build up between me and the college administration. To be perfectly truthful about this, I believe that had these requirements been explicitly set forth in my original dealings with the university, I might after some grumbling have complied; for are we not all inured to such bureaucratic absurdities in myriad aspects of life, from obtaining a driving license to applying for a government job? And what of my colleagues, professional teachers whom I had learned to respect as men and women of principle, and their thousands of counterparts in the state university system—who was I to set myself up as some sort of political purist and initiate a challenge when they had not seen fit to do so? Nor was I seeking, as was later charged, a "confrontation"—I had been through enough of those in my time, and yearned only to be left in peace, taken up as I was with the rigorous requirements of my new job. Yet having stumbled into this arena, I was reluctant to withdraw. Thus the warp and woof of my days at San Jose consisted in trying to learn more about the mysterious, fascinating process of teaching and locking horns with the authorities in a series of ever-intensifying skirmishes.

The first of these had to do with the loyalty oath. There is something weird about the wording of the California Oath of Allegiance; although extremely brief, it manages to encompass a number of bewildering and contradictory propositions. If it reads like a truncated version of something, this may be because in the middle sixties, after arduous battle, the ACLU succeeded in excising the most objectionable portion, that which required all state employees to swear that they are not now nor ever have been. As it stands, one must swear to "uphold and defend" the Constitutions of the United States and California "against all enemies foreign and domestic," and further swear that the oath was taken "freely and without any mental reservation." Well (said I to the deans), I think I have done my best to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against enemies, especially domestic; but the annotated Constitution of the State of California runs to three hefty volumes and covers all manner of subjects. Do I uphold and defend, for example, Article 4, Section 25 3/4, limiting championship boxing and wrestling matches to 15 rounds? I don't know. Perhaps it should be 14, or 16? I do know that I cannot uphold and defend the recent amendment reinstating the death penalty, which in my view runs counter to the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Nor can I uphold and defend the section requiring the loyalty oath, which I regard as an abridgment of First Amendment rights. But (said they) you must sign if you want to work here, it's the law. What if I strike out the words "freely and without any mental reservation" and substitute "under duress"? No, that won't do, you can't tamper with the oath. Then...you are requiring me to swear falsely as a condition of employment?

The section of the Penal Code giving the penalty for perjury, one to fourteen years in state prison, is printed right above the oath. But the same Penal Code would seem to contain an equally stiff caveat for university administrators who require employees to perjure themselves as a condition of employment: subornation of perjury also carries a penalty of one to fourteen years in stir. What, then, if we all end up behind bars as a consequence of my signing? Will it be a race between me and the administrators to see who is rehabilitated first?

We went around and around on this for several days. Eventually I consulted Paul Halvonik, counsel for the ACLU. He advised that since the Oath of Allegiance is a requirement built into the California Constitution, it would take a deal of toppling in court; it might be years before such litigation would be resolved. Meanwhile, refusal to sign would be cause for my immediate dismissal, an event that would doubtless be hailed with unalloyed glee by the trustees. It boiled down to a choice, then, between continuing to teach, and being fired and embarking on an interminable court fight over the oath. Why not sign, making it clear I was doing so under protest? Fingerprinting is another matter, said Halvonik; it is not a constitutional requirement, we could probably win that one.

I had not yet broached the oath matter to my classes-we were far too busy with funerals, Famous Writers, and related subjects—but I discussed it at length with Novelle and Professor Rudoff, who agreed with Halvonik's approach; so on Monday, October 1 (a date that later was to become significant), I went to the personnel office and signed. The previously scheduled press conference to announce my appointment was held a couple of days later; it was surprisingly well attended by TV, all the local press, even stringers from New York and London papers. I took the occasion (to the consternation of the university PR people who had called the conference) to explain my position on the loyalty oath and to denounce the "perjury-suborning" administration.

There followed a few days of press hoopla. The Spartan Daily, to my gratification, published two pages of letters from faculty members supporting my attack on the oath requirement; then it all subsided, and with some relief I settled back into my new occupation. But somehow, in the process of clarifying my position on the loyalty oath, I had forgotten all about the fingerprinting. It was soon brought back sharply to my attention.

Notes from Journal: October 10

My horoscope in today's paper says "Higher-ups may cause problems...do not overspend...rely more on colleagues...p.m., enjoy social activity, relax with mate." It turned out to be pretty accurate. The deans were after me all last week to come in for a discussion of the fingerprinting issue, but since the whole thing seems to have turned dead serious and they are holding up my paycheck, I said I would have to wait until I could get a lawyer to accompany me to the meeting. Today was kaleidoscopic: a book report which I'd been asked to give at a noon faculty luncheon, the meeting with the deans, an afternoon reception given for me by women faculty members.

Following the book report, I braced the assembled professors with a brief polemic on fingerprinting: an arbitrary, demeaning rule promulgated by the chancellor, part of a general policy of Big Brotherism, the dossier-building process through which our life histories can all be stored eventually in giant computers; was much fortified by their expressions of agreement and support.

Bob [Treuhaft, my husband, who is a lawyer] came down from Oakland, and together with Novelle and Professor Rudoff, we breached the deanly stronghold in the administration building, there to confront the massed deans: Dr. Hobart Burns, academic vice president; Dr. James Sawrey, dean of school of social sciences; Dr. Robert Sasseen, dean of faculty. With one accord, these worthies pronounced themselves opposed in principle to the fingerprinting requirement—they even commended me for bringing the issue to their attention. But, I must comply at once or leave the campus. "Then you mean to tell me that you support stand, but you are firing me for refusing to be fingerprinted?" I asked in some astonishment. With one accord they glumly nodded assent.

Novelle and Professor Rudoff pleaded the cause of my students, who would be subjected to real hardship: we were now three weeks into the semester, books had been bought, projects and assignments undertaken—some 200 students would be faced with the prospect of losing credits for courses, some might fail to graduate as a sequence, others would lose grants.

We proffered some face-saving compromises. Professor Rudoff proposed to invite me out for a drink and turn over my glass to a friend of his in the sheriff's office who would lift the prints. Bob suggested that I might continue to teach, so my students would not be penalized by loss of credits, and agree to forgo my salary until the issue had been decided in court. The deans were immovable; these higher-ups conceded that they were acting on instructions from President Bunzel, who in turn was almost certainly actuated by higher higher-ups, the trustees and possibly the my replacement-I learned later that the leading candidate for my job was Clinton Duffy, retired warden of San Quentin prison.

Off to the Faculty Club, where two or three hundred women were gathered for the reception. I took the sponsors aside and told them what had just happened-I had been fired; I intended, however, to meet my class as usual the next morning, but I had no idea what to expect; would the administration try to remove me forcibly? I asked if I might make a brief statement to the gathering explaining my position on the fingerprinting issue and requesting their support. The sponsors were dubious; many of the women there, they said, were not "politically aware" enough to understand these matters: there were teachers from the athletic department, from nursing and homemaking...So in the receiving line, as guests came up with words of welcome, I confided to each one, "I've just been fired." This was greeted with uneasy titters; was it some sort of unfunny joke? Finally, I prevailed upon the sponsors to let me speak to the assemblage. The response was overwhelming. Women shouted their encouragement and support—some left to prepare leaflets calling for a campuswide mobilization at my lecture, others said they would alert the press to these developments, the women's coach came up to say she would bring along the whole football team to be bodyguards and prevent my eviction.

P.m., relaxed with mate, who agreed to stay overnight and come to class with me tomorrow to explain the legal aspects of the matter to my students.

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