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Conant Letter Urges Faculty to Sign Oath, but Criticizes Bill

Meeting in New Lecture Hall to Be Conducted by the Harvard Liberal Club


Assuming what appears to be a less determined stand on the Oath Bill, President Conant has issued a letter which will be sent to all members of the Faculty this week asking that they sign the oath forms.

In this letter he said, "I consider the passage of this bill unfortunate, and I sincerely hope that the act will be repealed." However, he continued with, "It would seem to me very unfortunate for Harvard University to become involved in a technical controversy in regard to the mode of enforcing this law."

McLaughlin Supports Mather

Still another paragraph was written in the Epic of the Oath Bill yesterday with the release of a letter by James A. McLaughlin, professor of Law, in which he supported the stand of Kirtley F. Mather, professor of Goology.

Another addition to the role of enemies of the Oath is John R. Walsh, instructor in Economics who will preside at the meeting which will be held in New Lecture Hall at 8 o'clock tonight under the suspices of the Liberal Club. Professor McLaughlin will probably be on the list of speakers with Professor Mather, and Max Lerner, instructor in Government, and former brain truster has also signified his willingness to be on the program.

President Conant's Letter

President Conant's letter follows:

"I am inclosing a copy of the socalled Teachers' Oath Bill which was encated by the Massachusetts Legislature last June. The passage of this bill was opposed by the presidents of most of the colleges in this state, who appeared before a legislative committee and later circularized the legislature. I felt at that time and still feel that this measure is an unnecessary and unwise piece of legislation. Section 2A, which was added susbsquent to the public hearing, improves the statute from the point of view of those who opposed it; but in spite of this addition I consider the passage of this bill unfortunate, and I sincerely hope that the act will be repealed.

"The bill appears to make it maudatory for the institutions concerned not to permit any citizens of the United States to teach who fail to carry out the provisions of this act. This is clearly the case in regard to Section 1, dealing with new appointments. It is not as clear in regard to Section 2, dealing with existing appointments. It would seem to me very unfortunate for Harvard University to become involved in a technical controversy in regard to the mode of enforcing this law. For this reason I am taking the oath and hope that all members of the various faculties of this University will do like wise.

"It is clear that the act does not require you to take the oath if your duties are wholly and clearly apart from teaching.  Very sincerely yours,  James B. Conant."

McLaughlin Letter

Professor McLaughlin's letter to Professor Mather follows:

"My dear Mr. Mather:

"I should like to congratulate you on taking the leadership in expression of disapproval of the "Teachers Oath" Act (Ch. 370, Mass. Laws of 1935). I also approve your decision not to consider the matter of sufficient immediate importance to warrant embarrassing the University administration in view of the course of action it has seen fit to announce. Of course I speak only as an individual colleague, in no other capacity, and with no other authority whatsoever.

"Whether Harvard would be breaking any law by ignoring this statute is hard to say. As it is perfectly clear, however, that Harvard would be charged with being a law-breaker by many ignorant people whatever the true legal situation is, it is doubtless proper to avoid such charge unless serious principle is at stake.

Doubtful for Two Reasons

"There are two causes to doubt whether the University as an institution is put under legal obligations by the act. The first is the point which you appear to have made according to the newspaper items I have seen viz, that the act may be construed as issuing commands only to teachers and to the officers of the state. The transition from Every citizen . . . shall etc. (employing a verb in the active voice) to 'No professor . . . shall be permitted,' in the passive voice, suggests the construction which you doubtless first assumed.

May Be Unconstitutional

"The more important point is that there is also a possibility that the statute is unconstitutional. If it is unconstitutional, anyone who cooperates in its enforcement is cooperating in harassment of citizens in violation of the supreme law of the land. It is hard to answer the question satisfactorily because in so far as the oath refers to support of the federal and state constitutions, I find it to be absolutely without meaning. Section 2a expressly recognizes 'The basic principle of the constitution which assures every citizen, etc. the right to advocate changes . . . in both the state and federal constitutions.' Obviously, one may thus teach that the Electoral College, for instance, is a silly anachronism. It is thus not necessary to support the constitutions in a partisan sense the way one supports a political candidate, or his country when it is a belligerent. Unlike public officers we teachers in private institutions, at least, have no official duties to perform under the constitutions. I can hardly conceive of any act of a teacher that would violate this oath except perhaps the advocacy of overthrowing the government by force, and that would be unlawful in the absence of the statute.

Condemns Blue Eagle

"It is a strange spectacle that a community which has barely stopped flaunting a blue eagle with the words 'we do our part' (in carrying out the greatest conspiracy against the Constitution in the history of the United States) should now suddenly be attempting to rush to Constitution Worship. If this statute were a Republican political dodge it would be intelligible, but it appears to be something more insidious. The Legislature is requiring us to say 'Hocus pocus' which I regard as a petty personal indignity . . . .

Derides American Legion

"Suppose the Legislature should pass a law 'Be it onacted, etc., as follows:

"'Sec. 1. Every member of the American Legion shall refrain from drunkenness, lewdness, or the advocacy of uneconomic or selfish measures.

"'Sec. 2a. No such member need observe prevalent standards of sobriety, morality, or fair play so long as he follows his own personal standards.

"'Sec. 3. There shall be no penalty for violation of this statute.'

"I think members of the Legion would justifiably be slightly annoyed. I am probably slightly annoyed also. If I were not, I might write you a somewhat shorter letter.

"As the 'Teachers' Oath Act' stands, the Legislature seems to be making merely a nasty gesture suggestive of Hitler or Mussolini. Legislators who voted for it were flirting with violation of their own oaths to support the Constitution, but it is not clear that they have accomplished even that.  Yours sincerely,  James A. McLaughlin."

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