In 2014, this weblog reviewed George R. Stewart’s classic work, The Year Of The Oath, a book about the loyalty oath controversy at the University of California, Berkeley. The faculty won their battle to have the oath removed. But oaths, pernicious and unconstitutional, still abound in public employment – even for teaching and research positions.
This past week, in one of the less-pleasant small world stories connected with Stewart and his work, another author in another college resigned when he was ordered to sign such an oath – years after he began teaching there. James Sallis is by coincidence a George R. Stewart scholar who wrote likely the best essay about Earth Abides for The Boston Globe. Sallis, who also wrote Drive, made into an award-winning movie starring Ryan Gosling; and he’s now written Driven, a sequel. Sallis is a poet, a novelist, and – until recently – a teacher at Phoenix College in the city of that name.
His work in the classroom drew students from a wide geographic area. He was an excellent teacher, who knows how to write well, and to sell his writing. The chance to have this man as a mentor was a great boon to the apprentice wordsmiths. But the administrators of the College – who Sallis says were professional, and asked him to stay – said he couldn’t teach without signing. He chose to follow his conscience, and resigned. The administrators, when contacted by news organizations passed the buck, in this case to the Arizona legislature who authored the oath long ago. Even local Arizona media found the entire story incredible.
Fortunately, his act of courage is having a far reach, and may eventually help result in the tossing of the oaths.
Sadly, the Year of the Oath is not yet ended. Citizens would be well-advised to put their energies into correcting that rather than various red herring issues they seem to focus on.
(Disclaimer: I refused to sign both the US Army oath – which had already been declared illegal by the Supreme Court – and the California Standard Secondary Credential application oath without qualifying statements discussing the oaths’ illegality and unethical qualities. That meant deferring teaching for a while, until the state oath was tossed out by the State Supreme Court. As for the army oath – I have the rare distinction, during a time when protesters were trying to shut down the Oakland Army Induction Center, of keeping it open and keeping employees there long after they wanted to leave.)