Losing them, fixing them, forgetting to put them in
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I think of two things when I think of the Louisiana Constitution — the rejection of David Romtvedt and the rise of David Duke.
I was moved by David Romtvedt’s “Loyalties” [Issue 193], but he needn’t feel he “signed away an opportunity to participate in the life of his culture” by not signing the stupid loyalty oath required by the University of Southwestern Louisiana. Other honorable professions — cabdriver, janitor, day-care assistant, printer, designer, and writer — also offer opportunities to teach. What difference where the learning happens? Life will provide students seeking personal integrity and courage. We teach what we live.
Twenty-two years ago I reluctantly signed a loyalty oath to teach at the University of California. I have had the leisure to contemplate, discuss, and write about integrity. I can polish up David Romtvedt’s arguments. The oath does not, in itself, limit one’s scope of thought.
Consider writers in totalitarian societies: they have to make many more compromises to survive at all, yet their scope of thought is not inferior to ours.
The hasty and phony arguments so many gave for signing are more indicative of the harm the oath does. We professors who reluctantly signed the oath are not necessarily charlatans when we speak of integrity, but Romtvedt would have been a charlatan for not listening to his daemon.
I applaud his decision, and the beautiful essay it produced confirms its rightness. It challenges us not to necessarily imitate his action but to find our own deeds of authentic self-expression. His essay encourages me to live more fully my beliefs.