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Righties defend dismissed lefty law dean Chemerinsky

In case you hadn't heard, longtime USC law professor and prolific public commentator Erwin Chemerinsky, more recently of Duke University, was unhired Tuesday just one week after being hired as dean of the brand spanking new UC Irvine Law School. The reason? His liberal politics, he says. From the L.A. Times story:

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." [...]

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.

Drake is issuing no-comments everywhere, plus this non-statement. Excerpt:

Over the past several months, UC Irvine has conducted a nationwide search for the founding dean of our School of Law. Last week, we made an offer to Duke Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, an eminent academician, legal scholar and commentator. The offer was contingent on approval of the UC Regents.

Since then, I have come to the very difficult conclusion that Professor Chemerinsky is not the right fit for the dean’s position at UC Irvine at this time. I met with him on Sept. 11 to inform him that we were rescinding our offer and continuing the recruitment process.

Professor Chemerinsky is a gifted academic and his credentials are outstanding. I respect him greatly. My decision is no reflection whatsoever on his qualifications, but I must have complete confidence that the founding dean and I can partner effectively in building our law school.

UPDATE: Drake tells The Times Chemerinsky erred gravely by publishing an op-ed in this newspaper.

Reaction has been swift, and almost universally negative, particularly (in the words of blogger Gay Patriot), among "bloggers who themselves are right of center." A sampling of those:

Hugh Hewitt:

Erwin is a man of the left, of course, but a remarkably distinguished and accomplished scholar who enjoys the esteem of professors, jurists and practioners across the ideological spectrum. [...]

This is an astonishing and disgraceful episode, which, if perpetrated against a conservative, would rightly lead to a massive outpouring of outrage directed at the university that had allowed such a purge to occur. I will be astonished if any reputable scholar agrees to take the job over Erwin's broken contract, and many professors who would otherwise have welcomed the chance to join the UC system will be wondering about the Administration of such a place, even if they find someone to agree to be dean.

Glenn Reynolds:

OKAY, THIS IS JUST WEIRD: Hiring and firing Erwin Chemerinsky in one week? Because it turns out he's too liberal? First of all, who doesn't know about Erwin's politics? Certainly anybody who managed to hire him without knowing his political leanings would have to have been grossly negligent in their evaluation. Second, he's a nice, fair guy regardless of his politics -- which aren't that liberal by law school standards -- and which just shouldn't matter anyway. Perhaps there's more to this story than we're hearing, though I'm not sure what it could be, but it makes absolutely no sense as reported.

To see more outrage, keep reading after the jump.

John Leo:

Chemerinsky is indeed very liberal and very outspoken. He particularly irritated many religious conservatives by lumping Christian fundamentalists with Islamic fundamentalists as threats to democratic principles. So argue with him, but don't try to get him fired.

For one thing, the chancellor had plenty of time to think about the impact of hiring Chermerinsky, and to reject him if he chose. But it's disgraceful to hire the man, fire him immediately and then explain that you are doing so to cave into political pressure. The chancellor, the school and Chemerinsky all suffer from this sort of amateurish behavior.

Steven Greenhut:

Chemerinsky's name is almost synonymous with a certain set of liberal/civil libertarian political views. This either means that UCI is not being forthright about its reasons for firing Chemerinsky or officials there are amazingly unaware of the world around them.

In my experience dealing with Drake on one of his university's health-care scandals, he seemed anything but forthright, insisting that the problem was not a failure, but a failure to be successful. Drake mishandled the Muslim vs. Jewish war on campus thanks also to his lack of resolve. But this really takes the prize.

I agree with Chemerinsky on some matters and disagree with him on others, but he would have been an excellent and fair-minded dean for UCI — a top-notch national figure that would have done UCI proud.

Stephen Bainbridge:

As regular readers know, I'm not a fan of law professor Erwin Chemerinsky's politics or the implicit left tilt of the plans for the new UC Irvine law school, but I'm also no fan of firing people because of their political views.

If true, that's just ridiculous. Chemerinsky's a very liberal guy, with whose stated views I routinely disagree, but he's not out there on the radical fringe. Moreover, to fire someone because they're a target of political attacks sets the worst kind of precedent for all of us in legal education - on both sides of the aisle - who dare express political views.

Ilya Somin:

Chemerinsky is an extremely prominent and widely respected legal scholar. A brand new law school like Irvine was very fortunate that he was willing to become its dean. To be sure, I don't know much about Chemerinsky's administrative skills; some outstanding scholars are poor administrators (and vice versa). But lack of administrative talent on Chemerinsky's part doesn't seem to have been the reason for Irvine's reversal.

The Irvine decisionmakers were simply foolish to believe that Chemerinsky's hiring would produce a major backlash from conservatives that could harm the school. Many prominent law schools have deans significantly more left-wing than Chemerinsky. None of them has attracted a significant conservative backlash for their dean hiring decision, and certainly none has suffered any real harm from such conservative criticism as did occur. Chemerinsky is unquestionably a liberal, but his views on legal issues are actually quite typical of the overwhelmingly left of center legal academy. I can easily name plenty of prominent constitutional law scholars significantly further to the left than Chemerinsky is.

Those conservative and libertarian legal scholars who have commented on Irvine's decision have been uniformly critical.


Comments () | Archives (23)

The comments to this entry are closed.


I am a UC Irvine alum (undergrad) and I took a bar prep class with Professor Chemerinsky years ago. He was one of the most intelligent, approachable and interesting professors that I've ever had. I was thrilled to hear that he'd been selected as Dean. This situation embarasses UC Irvine before the law school even gets started.

Robert C. J. Parry

Oh, the irony. Prof. Chemerinsky now finds himself somewhat oppressed, despite having done no wrong.

Perhaps now that the show is on the other foot, he will revisit his support of mechanisms which hold people responsible for "suspicion." To wit, I give you the LAPD Consent Decree, of which the Professor is a proud proponnent, and which subjects hundreds of LAPD cops to similar injustice every day of the week, simply for being in blue.

How's it feel, prof?


Instead of firing Chemerinsky they need to fire Drake.

Elizabeth Sturgeon

I have no idea what all this means, but the UC system is in crisis, obviously, as is our country. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever."


Does anyone think there is a connection between this incident and Donald Bren, a major GOP supporter, donating $20 million dollars to UC Irvine's new law school? Who is calling the shots, the Chancellor or the money man?? Bren's money was earmarked to fund the dean's position among others, so maybe he gets to decide who gets to be dean. But what the Chancellor is missing is that this is a public school. Private donations should not give someone that much power over a public institution.

are they crazy

Another UC embarrassment. Perhaps the regents should spend their time worrying about all the waste and money spent on overpaid administrators including all their percs, travel spending, outrageous entertainment and meal allowances. While students pay more and staff (who actually do all the work) gets insultingly small raises, those at the top act like their royalty. Of course, those administrators spend most of their time hiding what's really happening on the campuses from the regents and kissing butt to move up the ladder. The professor is better off not being associated with the cabal of greed and selfishness.


Why hasn't the Times reporter covering this story connected the dots for readers.....i.e., Donald Bren is a big donor and friend to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Governor appoints the UC Regents.

Donald Bren also gave $20 million to the UC Irvine Law School last month and will, therefore, have his name on the law school.

It's obvious who put the pressure on this situation and killed the deal for Erwin Chemerinsky.

Still, Times readers deserve a more in-depth questioning of the Governor, the Regents and Bren.

Luddite I

I'm curious -- Back in the spring of '06 three Lacrosse players from Duke University -- Professor Chemerinsky's digs -- were indicted for raping an "exotic dancer". At that time the President of Duke condemned the three students as if they already had been found guilty. And a large segment of Duke's erstwhile faculty viciously attacked the three "rich white boys".

We all know what happeded to the D.A., Mr. Nifong. But the University President remains, and the faculty continue to cry out for academic freedom (which obviously doesn't include a student's freedom). Where was Professor Chemerinsky during all this? I never heard a word from him regarding Nifong's (and his faculty's) intellectual rape of three innocent students.

Luddite I


If the administration is pandering to a major money whale. They must have known that he was conservative well ahead of the selction research for a new Dean. As stated previously by reporters and commentors the Professor was well known for his political views as well as his standing as a legal scholar.
If the administration decided that they could ignore the whale (See Bass vs. Yale) and he wasn't aware of who they were hiring until the last minute (pretty damn unlikley) and pitched a bitch, why on earth did they think no one would notice a bail out at the last minute?


Chancellor Drake should not be condemned until al the facts are known. I'm sure his decision to rescind the offer was made with tremendous trepidation and full anticipation of the media frenzy and criticism to follow. Is it possible that he learned late of some skeleton hidden deep in Mr. Chemerinsky's closet but does not wish to embarass him by revealing the details? Could this skeleton explain why Duke Law passed over Chereminsky for its Dean.
- UCProf

Jim Brown

Yo UC Prof-

You are pathetic. Afraid to show your name? Stop hiding behind your internet identity and speak your mind. Your mere existence here on this blog indicates UC's cowardice as a whole.


Is it too late to cancel plans for the entire UC Irvine Law School? It's a useless diversion of talent and money that could be better spent on training professionals who are actually needed in California.


Toad, when you say, "They must have known that he was conservative..." I hope you meant to say "liberal". Don't you realize that the editorial is commenting on how some of Chemerinsky's most outspoken supporters in this incident have been people of different political beliefs?


Most people were undoubtedly glad to see EC go to Duke and think of him as a Wolfowitz, Feith type. After finally getting him out of Southern California it is no wonder he wasn't wanted back. We still don't really know the full ramifications of his city charter fiasco, other than the dreadful neighborhood councils that have deteriorated into numerous little racist fiefdoms that do more to separate the city and provide any sense of cohesion or balance. Rather than berating UCI, the better question is why is Duke so anxious and willing to get rid of him after so short a time. It is perfectly understandable that UCI would rescind any appointment. The idea is to get rid of these type people so as to inhibit if not completely eliminate their ability to exert effective control over the rest of us. Good riddance to bad rubbish, or some such.
The rapists at Duke got off simply because of their status, religion, financial circumstances, race and the fact that the lady was a black American slave descendant. The chilling part of that story is that no DA, since nifong's rout, will likely ever bring charges against any member of the group the racist rapists belonged to again. Calling the lady a "N", cursing her, beating her, thanking her grandfather for picking the cotton that produced a white cotton shirt, that whole thing was disgusting and nothing will likely ever, ever be done to any of them. I am not sure what the poster's point was in mentioning this sordid affair, I don't know what EC would have had to do with that. I mean, he certainly comes across as a real elitist creep in news reports, but I don't recall anything to suggest any affiliation with that type activity. But you never know.
uc prof, out of all the post you were the only one I read that was berated and denigrated and called pathetic and coward. Dude, without a doubt if you reveal they will crucify you. Thats just how they roll.

are they crazy

Who even knows if he's a real UC Prof. It's a screen name. Hey Prof - why not tell us a little about all the waste and inflated salaries for bigwigs on campus. How about a little realism about the sinking morale and the constant infighting between administration and faculty. UC could care less about education anymore - it's just a business.

Luddite I

Re ASD's comment on the "Rich White Boys":

"Dude". where you been? There was no rape other than that of the defendants by "One-Day" Nifong. There was NO rape. The three Lacrosse players were pilloried by Duke's President, its faculty, the New York Times and much of the elite press. They were innocent, Dude, INNOCENT! If you don't believe this read "Until Proven Innocent", a fascinating volume on Duke's "progressive faculty" et al.

The basic question remains: Where was Li'l Erwin during all this? If I'm correct that he was silent during the critical early days of this outrageous event, he doesn't deserve to sweep the floors of Mr. Bren's law school, let alone be its Dean.


Phil, I think Toad meant the donor was known to be conservative . . .hence Drake should have known he had to find a matching conservative dean to keep the money happy. That's how I read, it.

Barring some late rattling skeleton, Bren's money does seem the most likely inspiration for the unhiring. Drake shouldn't have made the offer if he wasn't going to stick with it. Whatever the reason for the late change, he didn't do his homework before making the offer, and that's just sloppy.

Marty C.

In response to Chancellor Drake's rationale for rescinding the offer to Professor Chemerinsky to be dean of the law school at UCI, "What".


Regarding the Duke LaCrosse team's rape of the black student mother who went to provide professional entertainment and ended up being raped and abused, that is a horrific event but I just don't see what it has to do with EC. He has the feel of an elitist power hungry person who obviously feels that only his point of view matters. I read his speech in the LAT this morning and all of this seems an awful lot of hoopla about a simple job loss. After reading several of the articles this morning I finally came across what I feel is the real issue: Drake is a black American, likely an American slave descendant, and the huge, mean-spirited, vociferous off-with-his-head outcry seems no more than racisim. This is becoming just like the Barry Bonds and Michael Vick sagas: sure, there may be some evidence that something was done, but no where even remotely near justifying the huge, racist outcry that accompanied. In Bonds' case, two white or otherwise privileged media people made totally unsubstantiated allegations against Bonds, based on no more than the color of his skin and yet a third white person's alleged account, not in Bonds' handwritting, but in the words of the white guy. In Vick's case his life has been ruined because of a dog. A dog! I couldn't believe it, but the constant racist barrage of negativity was so very sad and so very telling. Here you had Jews and white people acting so very outraged about co-defendant allegations of bad treatment of a dog. Its like Too Short said: [they] get rich, they get indicted. It is as if the two go hand in hand.
So when stories appear like this one about EC and there is a slave descendant or any black person involved, it goes without question where the ax is going to fall. Goodbye Dr. Drake. We hardly knew ye.

Donna C.

Hasn't anyone noticed that no one from the USC or Duke law faculties has (as yet) written an editorial supporting Chem?


Isn't it ironic? Professor Chemerinsky is a first-rate scholar, but his views are definitely on the left fringe. One could hardly fault the administration of the University of California, a publicly-funded institution, for not wanting a new academic division to fall into disrepute because of the iconoclastic views of a new Dean. And (lest we forget), he was co-counsel with Stephen Yagman, the self-proclaimed "civil rights" lawyer from Los Angeles who was recently convicted of federal tax and bankruptcy fraud, in representing Gitmo terrorists in a lawsuit against the Justice Department. In addition, he has stated that he opposes tax deductions for church contributions, he supported the Ninth Circuit's opinion declaring the Pledge of Allegiance as unconstitutional because it uses the phrase "one Nation, under God...," and he believes that political considerations are proper in the nomination and confirmation of federal judges. See his artle: http://www.legalaffairs.org/webexclusive/debateclub_adviceandconsent0805.msp. One could, and should, use the professor's own logic as applying equally to law school deans.

If anyone is to be faulted, I suppose it is the Chancellor himself, who caused this public-relations fiasco in the first place by choosing someone who, while academically qualified, should not be considered as suited to serve as a law school dean.

William V. Custer

Erwin Chemerinsky is universally recognized as a top notch legal scholar and a genuinely nice guy. In view of his considerable reputation, I am surprised that he even considered the position at UC Irvine. If he had been allowed to take the job, Irvine's reputation as a start up law school would have been enhanced tremendously.

As it is, a dark irremovable smear has been left upon the school's credibility and its character. What law student, who has a choice, would go to school there now? What law professor would choose to teach at such a place?

Law schools live and die on their scholarship and their credibility. UC Irvine is dead. RIP.


Stephen Dolle

Hmmm. Sounds like he's being called a "socialist." Was this not the same criticism leveled at Obama and others on the Democratic ticket last November? It came from so0called capitalists. Maybe you need to look at the source. I don't know Erwin, but do take some issue with some of the extreme capitalistic views of UCI. All the while UCI exists as a 501(c)3. Is there not some hypocracy here? To the right - you can't have it both ways! And to the left, all I ask is that you adopt the same. I CHOOSE US!



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