James Sallis Quits as College Instructor Over Arizona Loyalty Oath

James Sallis

James Sallis

James Sallis quit as an adjunct professor at Phoenix College in the middle of the semester when called on to sign the state of Arizona’s loyalty oath.

Sallis’ name first became familiar to fans as a New Wave author who had two stories in Again, Dangerous Visions, though his literary reputation derives from many later works, such as his novel Drive, which was made into a film starring Ryan Gosling.

Arizona has a loyalty oath requirement for all employees of the state or other government units.

“I never imagined that things like this were still around. It horrified me,” Sallis said in an interview Monday.

Officials at the college told the station that it had no choice under state law but to require Sallis to sign. The officials said that, in preparation for an accreditation review, the college reached out to 800 adjunct instructors — Sallis among them — and found that some of them had never signed the loyalty oath, and that they have been told they must do so to keep their jobs. Sallis had taught at the school for 14 years.

The text of the oath is a pledge to —

“support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and laws of the State of Arizona; That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and defend them against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Inside Higher Ed reports —

Students are expressing outrage over the enforcement of the loyalty oath rule, and are saying that they signed up for a course with Sallis because he would be the instructor. E. J. Montini, a columnist for The Arizona Republic, quoted from a student letter to the college. “He provided an opportunity for the kind of world-class instruction that is typically only accessible to those who attend prestigious and expensive M.F.A. programs.”

[Thanks to Michael J. Walsh for the story.]

27 thoughts on “James Sallis Quits as College Instructor Over Arizona Loyalty Oath

  1. I hung out with James Sallis in Notting Hill when he came over to avoid the Vietnam draft (like many Americans). Mike Moorcock published him in new Worlds. When he went home he left behind a very nice Gibson guitar which was appropriated by M. John Harrison. I am glad to see him looking so well (and seditious); far better than I am.

  2. I would say that I’m shocked that this sort of rights-violating law is still on the books and being enforced. But I’m not. 😐

  3. The text seems fairly innocuous at first glance.

    The problem with it is that, well, it’s a loyalty oath, and in most of this country that BS went out with McCarthy and HUAC.

    It’s mere existence can be seen as having a chilling effect on open discourse in what’s supposed to be a forum of ideas.

    This sort of thing, in the hands of the wrong people, leaves too much room for subjective judgment.

  4. in most of this country that BS went out with McCarthy and HUAC

    In theory – in practice, not so much. There are parts of California’s educational system that require it still.

  5. For the California one you have to swear that you “take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.”
    Which seems pretty absurd, since for one thing, I never commit to pretty much anything without some mental reservations.
    And since, if indeed they wanted it given “freely,” they wouldn’t be requiring it as a condition for employment.

    People still lose jobs over it.

  6. @Mark Richards

    The text seems fairly innocuous at first glance.

    Yeah. It’s easy to smear people who won’t take such oaths as seditious, because seriously, how could you object to defending the constitution and etc.? It’s a subtle poison.

    @Graham Charnock
    Wow. Fascinating connections. Also brings up that I need to re-re-read the Dangerous Visions series. It’s been over 20 years, and I was barely in my 20s.

  7. The “without mental reservation” seems to be missing a point: if I was willing to take an oath (any oath) that I didn’t mean, adding “no, really, I mean it” wouldn’t make any difference. Certainly a hypothetical KGB sleeper agent wouldn’t have been willing to sign the oath, and then change their mind, or their loyalties, because of the bit about “without mental reservation.”

    This is, literally, magical thinking: that most of the “wrong”/potentially seditious people will be unwilling or unable to sign the oath, and that adding “without mental reservation” will bind people who wouldn’t otherwise be bound by their sworn word.

  8. Wikipedia s.v. “Mental Reservation”:

    In wide mental reservation, equivocations and amphibologies are used to imply an untruth that is not actually stated. In strict mental reservation, the speaker mentally adds some qualification to the words which they utter, and the words together with the mental qualification make a true assertion in accordance with fact.

    A frequently cited example of equivocation is a well-known incident from the life of Athanasius of Alexandria. When Julian the Apostate was seeking Athanasius’s death, Athanasius fled Alexandria and was pursued up the Nile. Seeing the imperial officers were gaining on him, Athanasius took advantage of a bend in the river that hid his boat from its pursuers and ordered his boat turned around. When the two boats crossed paths, the Roman officers shouted out, asking if anyone had seen Athanasius. As instructed by Athanasius, his followers shouted back, “Yes, he is not very far off.” The pursuing boat hastily continued up the river, while Athanasius returned to Alexandria, where he remained in hiding until the end of the persecution.

  9. I guess I already knew that the Arizona legislature was full of creeps. But I suppose more data is always welcome.

  10. Are anyone ever punished for breaking these oaths? Are there any political activity that’s legal for most people, but illegal if you’ve sworn a loyalty oath?

  11. Johan P: Are anyone ever punished for breaking these oaths? Are there any political activity that’s legal for most people, but illegal if you’ve sworn a loyalty oath?

    One of the numerous problems with oaths like these is that they are worded so ambiguously that a person in a position of power, should the signer rub them the wrong way, can pretty much construct a spurious justification to discipline or fire the signer for any reason at all. For instance, if the signer attended a protest of the Iraq war, that oath could be used to fire or prosecute them.

    And as Vicki Rosenzweig pointed out above, such oaths are useless in terms of meaningful enforcement. It is ludicrous to believe that someone who is willing to engage in seditious activities would hesitate to sign something like this because they knew they would eventually break it.

    Bear in mind also that one of the huge problems with oaths like these is that they hearken way too closely back to McCarthyism and HUAC, which are huge black spots in the U.S.’ history. There were a lot of really bad things done back then in the name of “Patriotism”. Peoples’ careers and lives were ruined. Oaths like these could be used to engage in those sorts of witch hunts, and many Americans tend to rightfully be very opposed to that happening again.

  12. For instance, if the signer attended a protest of the Iraq war, that oath could be used to fire or prosecute them.

    Yes, and I don’t want to sound like I’m JAQing off, but I’d like to know: Does this actually happen? To what extent?

    As I see it, there’s something of a Catch-22 in this: If someone defends the oath by saying it’s harmless – because noone is ever punished for violating it – then they’re also attacking the oath by saying it’s meaningless. If there’s no activity that counts as breaking the oath (that’s not already illegal, like making bombs), it can be abolished with no ill effect.

    On the other hand, if oath-takers are punished for activities that’s considered normal political activism for anyone else, that’s obviously problematich and a reason to get rid of the oath.

    (And on the third hand (tentacle?), there’s a chance the oath is both harmful and meaningless – if it’s used to punish “regular” political activism, but not used to deal with people who really are working against the constitution.)

  13. Aren’t there stern Biblical injunctions against swearing oaths? Wouldn’t it be unconstitutional as a consequence in that it would impact on a person’s religious freedom?

  14. Johan P: Yes, and I don’t want to sound like I’m JAQing off, but I’d like to know: Does this actually happen? To what extent?

    Unfortunately, yes, this sort of shit — punishing people on spurious pretexts — happens in the U.S. all the time. People kicked out of malls and off airplanes for wearing t-shirts denigrating GWB, people fired and imprisoned for legal political activism, you can Google ACLU cases and see what sort of shit goes on.

    Johan P: there’s a chance the oath is both harmful and meaningless – if it’s used to punish “regular” political activism, but not used to deal with people who really are working against the constitution.

    But see, these oaths are not needed to deal with people who really are working against the constitution. There are already means for that: they’re called the U.S. Constitution, and the U.S. legal system.

    These oaths are there for one purpose only: to use as a control mechanism for “keeping people in line”.

    Chilling Effects, indeed.

  15. In 2008 a grad student in California, who was a Quaker, wanted to amend her California loyalty oath to say “I… do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will nonviolently support and defend the Constitution… [etc.]” She was fired. After the chancellor’s office attached a statement to the oath saying that it carried no obligation “to bear arms or otherwise engage in violence”, she signed the unmodified oath and was rehired.

  16. Wow, looking at the oath, I’m surprised that that Joe Arpaio hasn’t been picked up for violations of it. I assume he would have taken it once or twice.

  17. I heard about this at our local writers’ workshop this week; the person who organizes the meetings and arranges for meeting space at the local library was one of the students in Sallis’ class.

    Reading the actual oath, it seems you wouldn’t lose your job if you don’t sign the oath. You just won’t be paid until you do. Oh, no coercion there, none at all.

    The comments to the news articles about this are disheartening, to see how many people think a compulsory loyalty oath is something no one should have a problem with. Worse, to see how many people think not wanting to sign a loyalty oath is (or should be) an actual act of treason.

  18. Bruce Arthurs: The comments to the news articles about this are disheartening, to see how many people think a compulsory loyalty oath is something no one should have a problem with. Worse, to see how many people think not wanting to sign a loyalty oath is (or should be) an actual act of treason.

    These are the same people who were just fine with all the civil rights taken away by the UnPatriotic Act, because, according to them, “if you’re not one of the bad guys, you have nothing to fear about warrantless wiretapping, search-and-seizure, and arrest and imprisonment without the benefit of an attorney or trial”.

  19. This is kind of odd. It’s actually quite common in the United States for public officials and military personnel to swear (or affirm) an oath of office, which generally reads very much like the one quoted here. It’s actually required in the Constitution for senior federal officials. I’m under such an oath myself.

    On the other hand it’s rather unusual for ordinary employees of state or local government to have a similar requirement – as far as I can tell most states don’t have any such thing. it certainly doesn’t seem like the sort of thing there’s a burning need to demand from university professors.

    “Oaths of office” have generally not faced much legal challenge, whereas “loyalty oaths” certainly have. I’m not at all clear what, if any, distinction exists between the two under the law.

  20. Here’s the problem. If you swear to defend the Constitution and the government routinely breaks it, what is your duty?

  21. Chris Nelson: While you’re formulating the “What’s Your Duty?” game show, add this — What if I think some part of the Constitution means a certain thing, then the Supreme Court says I’m wrong, what’s my duty?

  22. The roots of this thing in Arizona go back to an Arizona State University professor named Morris Starsky in the late 60’s/early 70’s. Starsky was a philosophy professor who was politically active in protesting the Vietnam War, racism and other causes. And he was a registered member of (OH MY GOD!) the Socialist Workers Party. He was the bete noire of hard-right Arizona conservatives of the day, and they went to a lot of effort to have him removed from his (tenured) professorship. (He was also one of many activists illegally wiretapped by the federal government in those days.)

    After Starsky was fired, he was effectively blacklisted from teaching anywhere except several temporary positions until his death in 1989. (Here’s a link to a Phoenix New Times article following his death.)

    But yes, even nearly fifty years later, the conservative Old Guard in Arizona still stews over Starsky, and the loyalty oath is one of the tools they’ve come up with over the years to try and nip similar activist state employees in the bud.

  23. Chris Nelson on October 2, 2015 at 11:32 am said:

    Here’s the problem. If you swear to defend the Constitution and the government routinely breaks it, what is your duty?

    Appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States which is constitutionally the supreme court* of the United States and the final arbiter of what is and is not constitutional. I can’t say it is my favorite constitution (we can be constitution fans/geeks can’t we?) but the people who put it together did think of that one in advance. The downside is that if the Supreme Court make stupid decisions you’d then have to defend those decisions.

    [*which is lucky given its name]

  24. “Huey Long once said, ‘Fascism will come to America in the name of anti-fascism.’ I’m afraid, based on my own experience, that fascism will come to America in the name of national security.” – Jim Garrison [Playboy interview, October 1967]

    David Stever on October 2 asked:
    “Wow, looking at the oath, I’m surprised that Joe Arpaio hasn’t been picked up for violations of it. I assume he would have taken it once or twice.”
    Sheriff Joe gets a pass because he’s the one asking “Your Papers, Please!!!” to anyone caught DWNW (Driving While Not White).

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