George Starbuck papers on the Feinberg Oath
Scope and Contents
Papers, primarily correspondence, pertaining to George Starbuck's refusal to sign the so-called "Feinberg Oath," a disclaimer of Communist Party membership required by the State of New York Education and Civil Service Law, and the resultant legal battle. Starbuck's case became part of Keyishian et al vs. the New York Board of Regents, which was settled by the US Supreme Court.
The papers include statements of the local American Association of University Professors and correspondence with Richard Lipsitz, Sr., lawyer of the "Keyishian" case. The papers also include correspondence with Kathleen Holmes concerning Starbuck's participation in the 1967 UB Spring Arts Festival.
- Starbuck, George, 1931-1996 (Person)
Terms of Access and use
The George Starbuck papers on the Feinberg Oath, 1963-1968, are open for use.
Copyright of papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and University Archives before requesting photocopies and/or publishing quotations from materials in the collection. Once permission is obtained, most papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures unless otherwise specified.
Poet George Starbuck was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1931. He attended Cal Tech, Berkeley, the University of Chicago, and Harvard.
Starbuck began working at the University of Buffalo in October, 1963 as a librarian and part-time lecturer in Millard Fillmore College. Shortly after hire, he was asked to sign an anti-Communist loyalty oath. His refusal led to a Supreme Court challenge to the New York State "Feinberg Oath." The court struck down the oath in 1967.
He later taught at the University of Iowa, Boston University, and the University of Alabama. As a poet, Starbuck's tools were pun and parody.
George Starbuck died in 1996 from Parkinson's disease.
The Feinberg Law of 1949 amended both the State of New York Education and Civil Service Laws to contain provisions barring employment of persons by the state for subversive activity or background and made the public schools responsible for policing themselves against subversive employees. In 1953 the statute was extended to faculty members and other personnel of state operated institutions of higher education. The Board of Regents of the State University of New York established the signing of the Feinberg Certificate as a condition of employment in order to fulfill the requirements of the Feinberg Law.
The certificate states:
Anyone who is a member of the Communist Party or of any organization that advocates the violent overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of New York or any political subdivision thereof cannot be employed by the State University.
Anyone who was previously a member of the Communist Party or of any organization that advocates the violent overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of New York or any political subdivision thereof is directed to confer with the President before signing this certificate. […]
This is to certify that I have read the publication of the University of the State of New York, 1959, entitled Regents Rules on Subversive Activities together with the instructions set forth above and understand that these rules and regulations as well as the laws cited therein are part of the terms of my employment. I further certify that I am not now a member of the Communist Party and that if I have ever been a member of the Communist Party I have communicated that fact to the President of the State University of New York.
When in 1962 the University of Buffalo merged with the State University of New York the faculty and staff became State employees and faculty who held tenure in University at Buffalo were accorded tenure in the State University system. The certificates were not distributed for signing until December, 1963 and it was not clear at that time whether the 1962 merger agreement made explicit or implied the Feinberg Law requirement, or that faculty would be asked to sign the Regent's certificate. The Civil Service and Education Law requirements could have been fulfilled verbally or by affirmative oath as became the case for teachers in July 1965 when President Gould of the State University of New York announced the abolition of the Feinberg Certificate. However, the fundamental objection to the Feinberg Law on the grounds that it violated the First and Fourteenth amendment, remained.
When the certificates were first distributed in December 1963, the State University of New York at Buffalo chapter of the American Association of University Professors requested an extension of the deadline on signing for "purposes of study and clarification." The American Association of University Professors objected specifically to a memorandum of State Education Commissioner Allen in Regents Rules on Subversive Activities which it felt was unclear and ambiguous. The memorandum dealt with the use of communistic material in the classroom.
Late in January 1964, the American Association of University Professors Buffalo chapter passed a resolution protesting the disclaimer requirement and further resolved to protect the rights of those who would not sign.
The first challenge to the Feinberg Law on the grounds that it violated the First and Fourth Amendment came from the poet George Starbuck who was hired in the Acquisitions department of the State University of New York at Buffalo library in October 1963. He was not informed at the time that he would be required to answer a State Civil Service Commission questionnaire which included the following question:
Have you ever advised or taught or were you ever a member of any society or group of persons which taught or advocated the doctrine that the Government of the United States or any political subdivision thereof should be overthrown or overturned by violence or any unlawful means?
When he received the questionnaire in November, Starbuck answered in substance: "I prefer not to answer, at least until the pertinence and necessity of such a question are properly explained to me."
He was shortly thereafter notified by the university that he would be discharged as of February 7, 1964. He was not given a hearing as guaranteed to permanent or tenured employees under the rules of the Board of Regents and Trustees.
On February 5, 1964, Starbuck, with his attorney Richard Lipsitz, went to Federal Court and won a temporary restraining order barring the state from firing him until the trial of his complaint. In addition to the constitutional issues Starbuck charged the Board of Regents et al with breach of contract.
There was contention as to Starbuck's status (temporary or permanent) and as to the status of his job (classified or unclassified). For full discussion of this question see folder 1.15: affidavit of Joseph Tammany.
On June 18, 1964 Judge John O. Henderson ruled that the loyalty question was "relevant and constitutionally permissible," and that Starbuck's civil rights would not be violated by the dismissal.
Starbuck then joined with four State University of New York at Buffalo faculty members who had refused to sign the Feinberg certificate. Keyishian et al (Hochfield, Garver, Maud, Starbuck) filed a complaint in Federal Court in July 1964. A motion for a preliminary injunction that would have halted enforcement of the Board of Regents' loyalty procedures and preserved their jobs was denied by Judge Henderson. In February 1964 Keyishian was denied reappointment. The Judge also denied Lipsitz's request for a special 3 Judge Court to rule on the constitutionality of the statutes.
The case then went to the United States Court of Appeals, New York, in September 1964 and the appeal was won in May 1965. In November 1964, President Gould of the State University of New York directed that non-signers should not be prejudiced as to normal employment rights and, on the eve of the convening of the 3 Judge Court in June 1965, announced the abolition of the Feinberg certificate. The case was not substantially affected by the latter action as it merely altered the procedures of implementing the Feinberg Law.
In January 1966, the three Judge Court upheld the constitutionality of the Feinberg Law and this decision was appealed to the United States Supreme Court the following month. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and Lipsitz presented his argument before the court in November 1966. The American Association of University Professors and the United Civil Liberties Union submitted briefs as amici curiae.
In January 1967, the Justices of the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the Feinberg Law, the Board of Regents' Feinberg certificate, the Civil Service Law amendment covering subversive activities and that section of the Feinberg Law which disqualified a Communist Party member for public employment.
Keyishian et al ended on April 27, 1967 with a Federal Court order directing the Board of Regents et al to pay the plaintiffs for their financial losses.
.25 Linear Feet (1 half manuscript box)
Language of Materials
Papers of George Starbuck regarding his employment at the University at Buffalo and his refusal to sign the "Feinberg certificate," an anti-Communist oath.
This collection was donated to University Archives in 1971 by Jerry Parsons. Parsons received the papers from George Starbuck for research on his dissertation regarding the Feinberg Law.
Accruals and Additions
No further accruals are expected.
Processed by Archives staff, date unknown; finding aid encoded by Amy Vilz, July 2018.
- Academic freedom -- New York (State) -- Buffalo Subject Source: Local sources
- College teachers -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- New York (State) -- Cases Subject Source: Local sources
- College teachers -- New York (State) -- Buffalo -- Political activity Subject Source: Local sources
- Correspondence Subject Source: Art & Architecture Thesaurus
- Educational law and legislation -- New York (State) -- Cases Subject Source: Local sources
- Freedom of association -- United States -- Cases Subject Source: Local sources
- Freedom of speech -- New York (State) -- Buffalo Subject Source: Local sources
- Lipsitz, Richard
- Loyalty oaths -- New York (State) -- Cases Subject Source: Local sources
- New York (State) -- Politics and government -- 1951- Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Subversive activities -- New York (State) -- Cases Subject Source: Local sources
- Teachers -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- New York (State) -- Cases Subject Source: Local sources
- University of the State of New York. Board of Regents
- Finding Aid for the George Starbuck papers on the Feinberg Oath
- Finding aid prepared by Amy Vilz.
- 12 July 2018
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