Former UC Berkeley mathematics chair John L. Kelley, an activist and loyalty oath dissenter in the 1950s, dies at age 82

By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs

BERKELEY-- John L. Kelley, emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, died on Nov. 26 at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland of complications resulting from surgery. He was 82.

Kelley, who served twice as chair of UC Berkeley's mathematics department, played a major role in the department's ascent to its top position in national rankings. He also was one of 29 tenured UC Berkeley faculty members fired by the university in 1950 for refusing to sign a loyalty oath. He returned to the university three years later, after the oath was declared unconstitutional, but he remained an activist and later was an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War.

Kelley arrived at UC Berkeley in 1947 and served two terms- from 1957 to 1960 and from 1975 to 1978 - as chair of the mathematics department. In that capacity, he brought to UC Berkeley some of its most distinguished faculty, strongly contributing to the department's reputation. He also played a major role in reforming both the undergraduate and graduate mathematics curricula. He retired in 1985.

Kelley was born in Kansas on Dec. 6, 1916. After earning AB and MA degrees at UCLA, he obtained his PhD at the University of Virginia in 1940. He began his professorial work in 1940 at the University of Notre Dame, where he stayed until the outbreak of World War II. During the war years, 1942-45, he worked at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in a small mathematical group that included future UC Berkeley colleagues Charles Morrey Jr. and Anthony Morse.

After the war, he returned to university life from 1945 to 1947 at the University of Chicago before becoming an associate professor at UC Berkeley. His research publications were principally in the fields of topology and analysis and brought him to national prominence. But he also contributed to several generations of mathematical researchers through his graduate textbook, "General Topology," which first appeared in 1952, was translated into Spanish, Russian and Japanese, and was reissued in later editions in 1968 and 1976. It still is widely used, and it established the model for graduate textbooks on mathematics.

Kelley served on the Council of the American Mathematical Society and on The Board of Governors of The Mathematical Association of America. He was a Fulbright Research Professor at Cambridge, England, from 1957 to 1958 and accepted an Agency for International Development appointment as adviser and teacher at The Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, India, from 1964 to 1965.

Kelley's interest in mathematics teaching extended far beyond his own classes. In 1960, he took a leave of absence to serve as the National Teacher on NBC's "Continental Classroom" television program. He was an active member of The School of Mathematics Study Group which, in the early 1960s, transformed the way mathematics is taught nationwide.

In 1964, Kelley introduced a new Mathematics for Teachers major in the math department, arranging a special program of internships to help its graduates more quickly enter the teaching profession. In another effort to help school teachers, he developed a UC Berkeley math department course for prospective elementary teachers. He first borrowed an instructor from the campus's education school to serve as lecturer and subsequently taught the course himself. He also encouraged colleagues to take a turn. Out of this activity emerged his 1970 book, "Elementary Mathematics for Teachers," co-authored by Donald Richert.

From 1977 to 1978, Kelley was a member of the U.S. Commission on Mathematical Instruction and subsequently helped bring The Fourth International Congress of Mathematics Education to UC Berkeley in 1980. He welcomed some 2,000 teachers and professors from 90 countries to the campus.

Kelley was very active in a variety of non-mathematical activities aimed at improving the social fabric both on and off campus.

Foremost, he joined a group of 29 tenured faculty members at UC Berkeley, plus two at UCLA, who were fired after refusing to sign a special loyalty oath demanded by the university's Board of Regents in 1950. After his firing, Kelley served as a visiting associate professor at Tulane University from 1950 to 1952 and as visiting professor at the University of Kansas from 1952 to 1953. By then, the California Supreme Court had ruled the regents' oath unconstitutional and ordered the rehiring of all non-signers. Kelley returned to UC Berkeley to a warm welcome in the math department, which contained two other non-signers.

In the 1960s, Kelley was very sympathetic to the demands of students on campus for freedom to speak on political matters and other topics banned by the university. Along with his wife, Ying Lee Kelley, he was active in stirring resistance to the U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam.

Kelley is survived by a younger brother, Charles R. Kelley of Vancouver, Canada; an older sister, Lois Kelley Vincent of Tucson, Ariz.; and by five children and their families: Jonathan Kelley and Mariah Evans, both of the Australian National University; Sarita R. Kelley of Berkeley; Bruce and Colette Kelley of Berkeley; Paul Kelley and Linda Buckle of Newcastle, England; and Max Kelley, who was adopted at the time of Kelley's marriage to Ying Lee. Kelley had seven grandchildren.

Kelley also is survived by his wife of 37 years, Ying Lee, and his adopted daughter Sara Ying Kelley. Both now live in Berkeley.

A memorial service is being planned.


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