‘Unanimous support’ questioned
To the Editor:
The March 5 edition of the online UB Reporter featured a headline on the front page announcing "Unanimous Support." The associated link took you to the Web page for the UB Believers. Once there, you can electronically submit a letter in support of New York State legislative bill A. 2020/S. 2020.
Both chapters of UUP at UB oppose the legislation for a number of reasons. UUP members can ask their union department reps for more information.
Before you submit that letter of support, you may want to check with your union.
Assistant to the Director
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary Degree Programs
First Amendment rights not sole motive
To the Editor:
As the only remaining local of the five who challenged the Feinberg Law 46 years ago, I would like to thank you for the memorial in the UB Reporter of March 5 (Flashback: UB 5 stand up for their rights). Let me also take the occasion to make three remarks about the story.
The first is that each of the five of us had different motives and different objectives. It certainly was not the case that we all stood up for First Amendment rights. The overwhelming sentiment in the faculty was that the certificate was an affront to our dignity and our intelligence. It was an affront that the administration questioned our loyalty wholesale, and absurd to suppose that the procedure might uncover a subversive. Speaking for myself, I did not suppose that my refusal to sign the certificate would accomplish anything at all (I was proved wrong); I was acting as a Quaker, and my refusal was witness to a long Quaker tradition. I quoted Scripture in my letter of refusal. With the possible exception of George Starbuck, none of the others acted from anything like this motive.
The second point is that the case was not decided on First Amendment grounds, but instead the court found that the language of the Feinberg Law was unconstitutionally vague and thus, if I remember rightly, violated the “unreasonable search and seizure” clause. The First Amendment was irrelevant to the decision. The law made it illegal to “teach or advocate the overthrow of government by force or violence or other illegal means.” In this context, “teach” must mean something different from “advocate” and, therefore, a thoughtful, reasonable person could not know whether it would be legal to assign “The Communist Manifesto” in a political philosophy course or to join Martin Luther King Jr. in a march or a sit-in.
The third point is that it that it was a local attorney, Richard Lipsitz, who devised the argument, carried that matter through various judicial hearings, and won the argument before the Supreme Court. Without him, there would be nothing to celebrate.
SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus
Department of Philosophy