Posted by: mutantpoodle | September 12, 2007

You don’t have to be smart to run a University…

uciImagine you are the Chancellor of one of the flagship Universities in the University of California System. Imagine, too, that you have a significant endowment from a prominent Orange County businessman and power broker to create a first-tier law school under your university’s banner. You are looking for a Dean of this school whose reputation will help instantly catapult your school into this tier, and give the school cache and credibility it might otherwise take years to achieve.

Let’s say, further, that you find him, and that his name is Erwin Chemerinsky, and that he currently teaches at Duke (no slouch itself), having previously taught at USC. This is a man with a substantial resume, and a prominent liberal constitutional scholar, who is frequently published in newspapers and on-line, and often ends up on radio and television presenting his views on legal issues of the day. You hire him, he agrees to come, and then, because you discover that he’s, um, liberal, you fire him.

No one’s that dumb, you’d say. Anyone could discover Mr. Chemerinsky’s views in advance, and, failing that, see the tremendous damage firing him, mere weeks after hiring him, because he tilts to the left would do to your school’s – and your – reputation, right?

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake.

Both the LA Times and the OC Register have stories on this debacle, which, by the way, Drake tried to convince Chemerinsky to pass off as a mutual decision. And here’s the thing: folks on the right are highly exercised about this.

For example:

  • [From the OC Register coverage]: Chapman University School of Law Dean John Eastman, a conservative constitutional scholar who debates Chemerinsky weekly on a talk-radio show, said he was surprised by the decision to revoke the job offer. “It’s a huge misstep,” Eastman said. “Who’s going to want to come in now? The standard will be, ‘You’re bland enough to pass muster.’ “
  • From Instapundit (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.
  • Stephen Bainbridge: 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.

Just as revealing are the comments on the Register’s story, and not only the one where I learned that “extreme liberalism is a mental disorder.” Several true-blue Orange County Conservatives who had studied with Chemerinsky at USC praised him as respectful, humble, and kind, and said how lucky they were to have studied with him.

(By the way, didn’t anyone ever tell Michael Drake that messing with someone loved by many of the alumni of USC is a bad idea in these parts?)

One theory is that Drake hired Chemerinsky and then got reeled in by Donald Bren, Chairman of the Irvine Company and a major Republican party contributor. After all, $20 million buys you quite a bit of influence. But even if Bren balked at the hire (and we don’t know that he did), this one’s not on him – it’s on Drake. He should have been be able to explain to Bren – or anyone else who questioned the hire – why Chemerinsky was a good hire and a credit to the nascent institution which will bear Bren’s name when it opens in 2009. And maybe it’s too much to ask that Drake fall on his sword over this, but he did, after all, give his word to someone, and then back out.

Which means those UC Irvine Values are ringing a bit hollow today. Especially these two:

  • Integrity – We tell the truth and strive to earn the trust of those around us.
  • Appreciation – We appreciate different opinions and points of view.

Interestingly, just yesterday Drake announced on the UCI website that nominations for the UC Irving Living Our Values Award were now open not just to staff but to faculty and students, too.

I sure hope he’s planning on recusing himself from the judging.

Besides, he has a Law School Dean to hire. I hear Alberto Gonzales is available…

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