Oral History Center - UC Berkeley Library

The Loyalty Oath at the University of California, 1949-1952

Bern, Howard
Giesey, Ralph
Tolman Kent, Mary
Tolman Whitney, Deborah
LaBerge, Germaine
The Loyalty Oath at the University of California, 1949-1952
In 1949, Howard Bern was an instructor in the Department of Zoology at Cal. A Canadian by birth, he had served in the U.S. Army during World War II for almost four years, and had earned his PhD at UCLA in zoology. In his interview (conducted in December 1999), he reflected on his objections to the loyalty oath, his reason for signing at the last minute, the campus atmosphere which encouraged friendships with likeminded individuals. Ralph Giesey was a graduate student in the Department of History, a devotee of the famous Professor Ernst Kantorowicz. Kantorowicz, a non-signer, gave mesmerizing lectures on medieval history, which many faculty attended along with the students. Giesey’s interview, which focuses on Kantorowicz’s philosophy, was taped during his visit to campus for the symposium. He specifically highlights his mentor’s The Fundamental Issue, which expressed opposition to the loyalty oath. “The University is the universitas magistrorum et scholarium, the body corporate of Masters and Students. Teachers and students together are the university regardless of the existence of gardens and buildings….” Kantorowicz later left Berkeley for the prestigious Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Meanwhile, Giesey and other teaching assistants also faced the choice of signing or not signing the oath; the interview, therefore, offers that unique perspective, too. Deborah Tolman Whitney, the elder of Edward Tolman’s daughters, spoke about her parents’ backgrounds, their family life, her married life to Professor James Whitney, M.D.—all of which touched and was touched by the principles informing Tolman’s stalwart stance against the oath. Mary Tolman Kent had yet another connection to the oath through her husband, Professor Jack Kent. Both the Whitneys and the Kents were active in Berkeley politics in later years. These interviews offer insights into the decisionmaking process in various local and national issues in the latter twentieth century
Subject area(s):
Education, University of California
Interview date(s):
Education and University of California - Individual Interviews
Oskicat record:
Bern, Howard, Ralph Giesey, Mary Tolman Kent and Deborah Tolman Whitney. "The Loyalty Oath at the University of California, 1949-1952." Interview by Germaine LaBerge in 1999. Oral History Center, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 1999.