Friday, September 14, 2007

Erwin Chemerinsky

Sonya Geis has an article in today's WaPo about the unity of response to the University of California, Irvine's decision to un-hire law professor Erwin Chemerinsky:

Scholars across the political spectrum protested what they called an assault on academic freedom after the University of California at Irvine withdrew a job offer from a liberal professor who wrote an op-ed criticizing the Bush administration.

Faculty members were furious, and blogs and editorial pages hummed Thursday with news that constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, 54, would not become dean of the University of California's first new law school in 40 years.
Conservative and liberal lawyers called the ousting of Chemerinsky a major misstep for the new law school.

"Even though I agree with him on only about one out of 100 issues, I believe he is one of the top legal minds in the United States," said Hugh Hewitt, a law professor at Chapman University and host of a daily radio talk show. "This is clearly a boneheaded move, and how do you resurrect a situation like this?"

Douglas W. Kmiec, a conservative Constitutional scholar and law professor at Pepperdine University who has often debated Chemerinsky called him "a gentle soul, a splendid scholar and a person with a fine legal mind. . . . And I say this as someone who generally disagrees with where his mind is coming from." Kmiec wrote in a Los Angeles Times editorial on Thursday that the withdrawal of the job offer "is a betrayal of everything a great institution like the University of California represents."

On the other end of the political spectrum, Charles H. Whitebread, Chemerinsky's friend and former colleague at the University of Southern California Law School, said of the UC-Irvine administration: "I think they have shot themselves in the foot. They are going to have a very difficult time trying to create a first-rate law school now."

Over at The Corner on National Review Online, Victor Davis Hanson calls on UC-Irvine to "hire back Chemerinsky":
I don't know why or how UC Irvine could get away with the almost instantaneous hiring and firing of Professor Chemerinsky on apparently political grounds. No one has questioned either his competence or the conditions under which he was first hired (he wasn't passed over in the selection process).

Instead, his left-wing political views apparently came to light and, mirabile dictu, now precluded his appointment. Surely UCI should promptly rehire him, even if he scares away a few big-time donors (I doubt that with Hollywood nearby).

As someone who often ran into political correctness in California universities, I am surprised at the crudity of Chemerinsky's firing; usually these wrong things are done more stealthily and don't reach the point where the politically bothersome candidate is actually hired. Administrators for such top-level appointments know the general outlines of the selection developing in advance—or they aren't really administrators as I knew them.

The Chancellor's "trust-me" administrationese account of the firing (".... Professor Chemerinsky and I would not be able to partner effectively to build a world-class law school at UC Irvine"). only made things even more dubious

Hire him back. Apologize. Avoid a law suit—and then put up with his occasional editorializing. We have too many law schools as it is, so a new one at Irvine does not need to offer instant proof of why we don't need another.

Ed Morrissey calls UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake "incompetent":
UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake defends himself in the Los Angeles Times today for his firing of Erwin Chemerinsky as the school's first dean for their new law school. He claims that he did not renege on the signed contract a week after signing it because of Chemerinsky's political views, nor did he get pressured by the UC regents, donors, or politicians. So why did he fire Chemerinsky and embroil UCI in a completely avoidable controversy?

The University of California at Irvine over the last several months has conducted a nationwide search for the founding dean of our school of law. Last week, I made an offer to Duke Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, an eminent academician, legal scholar and commentator. I subsequently made the very difficult decision that Professor Chemerinsky was not the right person for the dean's position and informed him that we were rescinding our offer and continuing the recruitment process.

My decision -- and the motivation for it -- have been the subject of extensive media coverage over the last few days, much of which has been characterized by assumption, conjecture and hearsay.

Let me set the record straight. I made a management decision -- not an ideological or political one -- to rescind the offer to Professor Chemerinsky. The decision was mine and mine alone. It was not based on pressure from donors, politicians or the University of California Board of Regents. It was a culmination of discussions -- with many people over a period of time -- that convinced me that Professor Chemerinsky and I would not be able to partner effectively to build a world-class law school at UC Irvine. That is my overarching priority.

Really? So after conducting a lengthy search process and whittling the choices down to a select few legal scholars, Drake chose Professor Chemerinsky, presumably after interviewing him on at least a couple of occasions. He negotiated a contract with Chemerinsky in order to secure the proper level of compensation. They managed to agree rather quickly on terms, and both men signed the contract.

And somehow, after all of this effort together reached a successful conclusion, Drake suddenly discovered that he couldn't "partner" with Chemerinsky? Does that sound honest to anyone? At what point in the week that followed the execution of the contract did he figure this out, and why?

Scott at Powerline writes that Chemerinsky's First Amendment scholarship has been professionally helpful to him:
Fifteen years ago when John Hinderaker and I started representing University of Minnesota students and teachers with First Amenment claims against the university, we didn't quite know what we were getting into. Before an aggrieved plaintiff can get his First Amendment claim heard on the merits, he must work his way through a winding path of arcane legal doctrines flowing from the Eleventh Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and federal civil rights law. Even though our clients had strong (and ultimately successful) claims against the university, I quickly came to fear that we might be in over our heads.

Having its own legal department, the university seemed to specialize in grinding plaintiffs into the ground through the assertion of procedural issues that prevented plaintiffs from having the merits of their claims heard in court. Before I had ever heard of him, so to speak, we were able to even up the odds in dealing with the university through the discovery of the treatise on federal jurisdiction by Erwin Chemerinsky. For that I've remained grateful to him ever since.

In the spring of 2006, just after the Duke non-rape case broke, I visited Duke to speak there at the invitation of Duke's conservative student group. With the day free I visited the law school hoping to find a class taught by Professor Chemerinsky. As luck would have it, he was teaching his class on federal civil rights litigation. I found my way to the classroom and sat in. I thought Professor Chemerinsky would be good in the classroom, but I would say he was great.

As he worked his way through one of the Supreme Court decisions with multiple opinions in a difficult area of federal civil rights law, he explained the approach of each of the opinions. He invited and entertained questions until every one was answered. When a student asked for a hypothetical example illustrating a recondite distinction among the opinions, he created the example. Visiting his class on a random day, I found Professor Chemerinsky turning in a virtuouso performance.

I was thus saddened to see Professor Chemerinsky hired and fired within the space of a week as the founding dean of the new law school at the University of California-Irvine. The events seem to me to speak poorly of university chancellor Michael Drake, who does nothing to clear up the controversy in his Los Angeles Times column this morning. Like David Horowitz, I have no taste for Professor Chemerinsky's clients or his causes. But it seems to me that in hiring and then firing Professor Chemerinsky Chancellor Drake has disgraced his institution.

1 comment:

Chief said...

I found this site w/ a comment on UC Irvine Chancellor Drake