Wendy Gonaver, a lecturer in American studies at California State University at Fullerton, won a major victory on Monday, when she and the university agreed on the conditions under which she would sign a “loyalty oath” required under California law.
Ms. Gonaver was terminated last fall at the tail end of the hiring process, when she refused to sign the oath after being told that she could not attach a statement clarifying her views as a pacifist and a Quaker. Such attachments are routinely allowed by many state agencies in California, which has never repealed a 1952 amendment to the Constitution requiring state employees to swear an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
After approaching the American Civil Liberties Union about the case and not receiving an answer, the instructor told The Chronicle, she simply let the matter drop: “I decided to chalk it up to the fact that I stood up for my principles, and this was the consequence, and that’s the end of it.”
Ms. Gonaver took up the case again after reading that another Quaker employee in the Cal State system had been fired for a similar refusal. Marianne Kearney-Brown, an instructor in the mathematics department at Cal State-East Bay, had inserted the word “nonviolently” into her copy of the signed oath. She was later rehired by the university.
When Ms. Gonaver received an offer from People for the American Way to represent her case, lawyers for the civil-liberties group negotiated the new statement with the university. “I was always willing to negotiate the language of the addendum,” she said, adding that the university had taken the view that no additions were allowed.
The language agreed to by the university, Ms. Gonaver said, reads as follows: “I support and respect the United States Constitution and the California Constitution, and I fully intend to abide by the oath that I have been required to sign as a condition of my employment by California State University (‘CSU’). As an American, I do object, however, to being compelled to sign such an oath, and want to state my belief that such compulsion violates my right to freedom of speech. And, as a Quaker, in order to sign the oath in good conscience, I must also state that I do not promise or undertake to bear arms or otherwise engage in violence, and I have been assured by CSU that my oath will not be construed to require me to do so.”
Ms. Gonaver said her initial stance against signing the oath without a clarifying attachment had been spurred by preparations for the introductory American-studies course that she was to teach, including a section on civil liberties and McCarthyism that cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision about Arizona’s loyalty oath.
“When I went in and found out that there was an oath [in California], I was shocked,” Ms. Gonaver said. But now that the agreement has been reached, she said, she is excited about teaching at Fullerton in the fall semester. —Richard Byrne