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Keyishian v. Board of Regents: Background

Last Updated: Jul 21, 2021 11:52 AM

Summary

In 1962, the University of Buffalo joined the State University of New York. As a state institution, it began requiring its employees to sign an oath prescribed by the Feinberg Law as a condition of employment. The Feinberg Law, enacted in 1949, was largely seen as an anti-Communist law that sought to prevent subversive persons from holding teaching positions in New York State.

In 1964, five employees of the University at Buffalo banded together to challenge the law in federal court, believing their employment should not be predicated on the signing of a loyalty oath.  Plaintiffs Harry Keyishian, Newton Garver, George Hochfield, Ralph Maud and George Starbuck were represented by attorney Richard Lipsitz Sr. who argued that precedents upholding Feinberg and similar state laws should not apply to post-secondary school teachers.

Though a federal district court ruled against them, Keyishian v. Board of Regents was appealed to the United States Supreme Court.  In January 1967, the Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision in their favor, thus overturning the Feinberg Law in New York State.  The decision is considered a landmark regarding academic freedom under the First Amendment.

Source: "Reflections by an academic freedom pioneer." by David L. Hudson Jr. firstamendmentcenter.org: analysis. Sept. 26, 2007.

Biographies

Harry Keyishian began teaching at the University of Buffalo in 1960 as an instructor in English.  When Keyishian refused to sign the Feinberg Oath in 1964, his instructorship was not renewed. Keyishian's decision may have been influenced by his experiences as a student at Queens College where, in the 1950s, two professors' positions were terminated when they refused to answer questions about their involvement with the Communist Party in America.

In 1965, after completing the requirements for his Ph.D., Harry Keyishian was hired as a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. He taught English there until his retirement in 2007.

Source: "Reflections by an academic freedom pioneer." by David L. Hudson Jr. firstamendmentcenter.org: analysis. Sept. 26, 2007.

Newton Garver was associated with the University at Buffalo Department of Philosophy for almost 35 years, beginning as a lecturer in 1961.  In 1964, Garver refused to sign the Feinberg Oath on the grounds that it went against his Quaker beliefs.

Newton Garver became a professor at the University at Buffalo in 1966.  He served as Faculty Senate Chair, and was the recipient of the SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Award.  He retired from the University at Buffalo in 1995.  Newton Garver died on February 8, 2014.

Source: Biographical Note of the Newton Garver Papers finding aid.

George Hochfield began teaching at the University at Buffalo in 1963 as an associate professor in the English Department..  Before coming to UB, he was among a minority of professors at Ohio State University who had voted in favor of censuring the president of OSU for banning left-wing speakers from campus.  After losing the vote, Hochfield and many of his fellow dissenters found OSU unwelcoming and left the university.  This experience was at the core of his refusal to sign the Feinberg Oath in 1964. (Heins, 197)

After Keyishian v. Board of Regents was decided, George Hochfield stayed at the University at Buffalo until his retirement in 1992.  During his carreer, he served as Vice Chair of the English Department and as UB's representative to the American Association of University Professors. He died on January 17, 2018. ("George Hochfield')

Sources:

  • Heins, Marjorie. 2013. Priests of Our Democracy: the Supreme Court, Academic Freedom and the Anti-Communist Purge.New York and London: New York University Press.
  • "George Hochfield." UB Now, February 22, 2018.

Ralph Maude was drawn to the University of Buffalo in 1958 by the rich collection of Dylan Thomas materials found in the Poetry Collection of the UB Libraries.  He was an assistant professor in the English Department in 1964.when he refused to sign the Feinberg oath.  He found the oath "unduly vague" and "a demoralizing invasion of a person's privacy." (Heins 196-197).

Ralph Maud left the University at Buffalo in 1965 and joined the faculty of Simon Fraser University where he was a founding member of their English Department. (Heins, 221) 

Source: 

  • Heins, Marjorie. 2013. Priests of Our Democracy: the Supreme Court, Academic Freedom and the Anti-Communist Purge.New York and London: New York University Press.

 

George Starbuck began working as a librarian at the University at Buffalo in October, 1963.  Shortly after he was hired, Starbuck was asked to complete a civil service questionnaire, part of which asked about his political beliefs.  Starbuck refused to answer the question, instead entering "I prefer not to answer" on the form.  In January 1964, faced with dismissal for refusing to answer the question, Starbuck hired Buffalo attorney Richard Lipsitz, Sr.who filed suit in federal court. Four months later, Lipsitz would merge Starbuck's lawsuit with that of Harry Keyishian, Newton Garver, Ralph Maud and George Hochfield. (Heins 194-196, 200)

By the time the Supreme Court handed down its decision on Keyishian v. Board of Regents, George Starbuck would be teaching at the University of Iowa.  He later taught for nearly twenty years at the University of Boston.  George Starbuck died in 1996 from Parkinson's disease. ("George Starbuck, Wry Poet").

Sources:

  • Heins, Marjorie. 2013. Priests of Our Democracy: the Supreme Court, Academic Freedom and the Anti-Communist Purge.New York and London: New York University Press.
  • "George Starbuck, Wry Poet is Dead at 65." New York Times, August 17, 1996.

Richard Lipsitz, Sr. was born November 25, 1920. A graduate of Lafayette High School (Buffalo, NY) at the age of 15, he attended the University of Buffalo one year later. By age 18 he earned his Bachelor's degree and enrolled in UB Law School.  In 1942, Lipsitz was drafted into the army and served as lieutenant under Douglas MacArthur during WWII. Post-war, he worked for the National Labor Relations Board before returning to Buffalo, where he formed a law firm with Carl Green (Lipsitz, Green, Fahringer, Roll and James).

Over 53 years of practice in the labor field, his cases covered many areas including arbitration, National Labor Relation Board appearances, equal employment opportunity commission proceedings, Public Employment Relations Board and other administrative agencies. He appeared for clients in New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division and Court of Appeals, Federal District Courts, United States Courts of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court.  An ardent supporter of civil rights, Lipsitz's most famous case was as attorney for the plaintiffs in Keyishian v Board of Regents. 

Richard Lipsitz, Sr. died in Buffalo, New York on May 18, 2018 at age 97.

Source: "Richard Lipsitz Sr., founder of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria, dies at 97." Buffalo News. May 18, 2018