September 12, 2007
UC Irvine Law School, Not Yet Birthed, Already Controversial
Just days after he signed a contract to become the first dean of UC Irvine's new law school, Erwin Chemerinsky was told this week that the deal was off because he was too "politically controversial."
Chemerinsky said in an interview today that UC Irvine Chancellor Michael V. Drake had flown to North Carolina on Tuesday and told him at a hotel near the airport that that he did not realize the extent to which there were "conservatives out to get me."
Chemerinsky, one of the nation's best known constitutional scholars and a professor at Duke University in Durham, N.C., said he signed a contract last week after being offered the job Aug. 16. He said he had lined up a board of advisors for the new school, including the deans of the UC Berkeley and University of Virginia law schools and three federal judges, including Andrew Guilford, a Bush appointee from Orange County.
Chemerinsky said he was saddened by the decision. "It would have been an exciting opportunity to start a new law school. We live in strange times."
Chemerinsky said that Drake told him during a meeting at the Sheraton Hotel near the Raleigh-Durham airport that the decision "had been difficult for him."
He said that "concerns" had emerged from the UC regents, which would have had to approve the appointment, Chemerinsky said. The professor said Drake told him that he thought there would have been a "bloody battle" among the regents over the appointment.
The chancellor's office said Drake was meeting with the university's communications office and was not immediately available for comment.
John Eastman, a conservative constitutional scholar and dean of Chapman University Law School in Orange, who frequently debates Chemerinsky, called UCI's move "a serious misstep."
Chemerinsky has been a professor at Duke since 2004, after 21 years at the USC law school and was one of the finalists for the dean's job at Duke last year, before the university chose David Levi, a federal judge in Sacramento, for the job.
Any law school in the country would have been lucky to land Chemerinsky as dean. A masterful scholar, a brilliant speaker, and a wise person, he would have especially important to an infant law school that needs all the wisdom it can gather.
Hat tip: Brian Leiter.
Update: The OC Register has more important details.
Update: Professor Chemerinsky reports that the UCI Chancellor reported that he there would be both a firestorm at the Regents and negative impact among potential (or current) benefactors. Both those claims, if true, are quite distressing. Do some of the Regents now employ an ideological litmus test? I can imagine some ideological commitments that might make it difficult to serve as a good Dean. For example, if the Dean denied the value of empirical scholarship, or doctrinal scholarship, or thought women, gays, or minorities inferior, or believed in the divine right of kings, there would be reason to doubt the wisdom of that choice. But Chemerinsky is simply an old fashioned liberal, like a good percentage of this country. His commitments are clearly to the Constitution and democracy. I find it hard to believe that the Regents would be so small minded and short-sighted. Would we cave to the demands of potential benefactors? The Regents should make it absolutely clear that contributions to the UC bring with them no control levers over the ideological make up of the system. That is the essence of what academic freedom is about, as Robert Post has reminded us. Again, it seems unlikely that the UC would cave to such demands. So both explanations fall short, in my opinion.
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I do think, this is another proof how intelligent and progressive people who genuinely care about civil and human rights are not appreciated any more in this country... It also shows how politically tainted and polarized everything has become...
Posted by: Zoya Kosmodemianskaya | Sep 12, 2007 1:22:09 PM
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