To the editor:
We recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Keyishian v. Board of Regents, without which no course in constitutional law could now be complete.
Professor Harry Keyishian was an English teacher at a private university in this state when it was absorbed by the state system. All New York state employees were then required to sign a “loyalty oath” by the now-defunct Feinberg Law. Keyishian and a handful of fellow faculty members put their academic lives at risk by refusing to bow down to the new Baal of loyalty.
They were fired, and started this noble case. I had gone to Queens College with him and was impressed by his great act of patriotism. Probably he could have signed the oath without fear of a perjury prosecution. He was not a firebrand radical.
After this group of academic martyrs had languished for many years, their case reached the Supreme Court, where they prevailed gloriously on a decision written by Justice Brennan.
Over the years, I have been in occasional contact with Professor Keyishian. He was recently honored by the American Association of University Professors for bringing the test case.
For many decades, he was a distinguished scholar, writer and administrator at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where he headed the English department. His career there continued after his retirement from his classroom, since he was made the head of the FDU Press, from which he recently retired in his mid-80s.