Posted by: mutantpoodle | September 13, 2007

Michael Drake and his no-good, horrible, very bad day…

uciSchool’s about to start up, so it’s probably not a good time for UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake to go on vacation and be unavailable for comment. Or, should I say, invective.

The last 24 hours haven’t been kind to Drake, who fired highly regarded constitutional law professor Erwin Chemerinsky as the Dean of Irvine’s as-yet unopened Bren School of Law mere days after offering him the job in the first place.

Drake says, in today’s LA Times piece on the firing, that an August op-ed by Chemerinsky helped motivate his decision:

Chemerinsky and Drake agreed the new dean’s dismissal was motivated in part by an Aug. 16 opinion article in The Times, the same day the job offer was made. In it, Chemerinsky asserted that Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales was “about to adopt an unnecessary and mean-spirited regulation that will make it harder for those on death row to have their cases reviewed in federal court.”

But Drake and Chemerinsky split sharply on what role the article played in the decision to fire the incoming dean and whether academic freedom was at stake.

“Shouldn’t we as academics be able to stand up for people on death row?” Chemerinsky said.

Drake said that “we had talked to him in June about writing op-ed pieces and that he would have to focus on things like legal education in this new role, and then here comes another political piece. It wasn’t the subject, it was its existence. What he said doesn’t matter.”

So the article – clearly written before any job offer – comes out the day Drake makes the offer, after more than two weeks, the details are finalized in early September, and then this article becomes an issue?

Please.

In the meantime, Donald Bren, suspected by some of being behind the reversal, claimed that he knew nothing: “Mr. Bren doesn’t know Erwin Chemerinsky,” said his spokesman, “or know enough about him to have an opinion about him or enough to express an opinion about him to anyone.”

Where does that leave Drake? Well, on the wrong end of a flak-fest. Let’s go down the list (on top of the comments I featured yesterday).

The Los Angeles Times:

The decision last month to hire renowned legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky as founding dean of UC Irvine’s new law school was a stroke of genius. Rescinding that action, as the university’s chancellor did Tuesday, is an act of intellectual cowardice and self-destruction that brands the school as a haven for political correctness and threatens its academic integrity two years before it even opens its doors.

It won’t be much of a lesson for students in the fall of 2009 as they sit down to their contracts class, either. Chancellor Michael V. Drake offered Chemerinsky the post, and the professor accepted and began doing exactly what everyone knew he would do: building an unparalleled board of advisors and founding faculty. Offer, acceptance, binding contract.

Chemerinsky said Drake told him that conservatives were “out to get” him. Drake said the hired-and-dumped dean was not dismissed for his politics, but merely because he was not the “right fit” for Irvine….

It was a great loss to the region when [Chemerinsky] left USC for a position at Duke University in North Carolina. It will be a shame not to bring him back to Southern California.

But it is a greater shame that UC Irvine apparently wants a dean unburdened by academic fame or legal point of view. Orange County, contrary to its stereotype, is a politically diverse and creative powerhouse and deserves a law school that will embody California’s tradition of academic excellence. The decision to rescind Chemerinsky’s deanship puts it on another course altogether.

Pepperdine Law Professor Douglas Kmiec, also in today’s LA Times:

Erwin Chemerinsky is one of the finest constitutional scholars in the country. He is a gentleman and a friend. He is a gifted teacher. As someone who participates regularly in legal conferences and symposiums, I have never seen him be anything other than completely civil to those who disagree with him.

So the news that UC Irvine had selected him to be the first dean of its new law school was welcome indeed. And the subsequent news — that it withdrew the offer Tuesday, apparently because of Erwin’s political beliefs and work — is a betrayal of everything a great institution like the University of California represents. It is a forfeiture of academic freedom.

Erwin and I seldom agree on constitutional outcome. I’m conservative, and he’s liberal. We have written competing textbooks. We have debated frequently in the media. Before the U.S. Supreme Court, if Erwin is for the petitioner, it’s a good bet I can find merit in the cause of the respondent.

Yet there is no person I would sooner trust to be a guardian of my constitutional liberty. Nor is there anyone I would sooner turn to for a candid, intellectually honest appraisal of an academic proposal. When students have difficulty grasping basic concepts, I do not hesitate to hold out his treatise on the Constitution as one that handles matters thoroughly and dispassionately. Across the nation, federal and state judges turn to Erwin each year to give them an update on the changes in the law and the legal directions of the Supreme Court….

UC Irvine would have benefited greatly by Erwin’s service. He would have been a model for the faculty — widely published, dedicated to his students, civically involved. He would have assembled a world-class faculty and, in a short period, would have competed for some of the most talented students in the country.

Ironically, Erwin and I have often disputed the extent to which law is only politics. It has been my view that law must be understood as its own discipline and that the Constitution must be interpreted in a manner that respects its text and its history rather than any desired outcome. If federalism is a principle to be honored in the Constitution, for example, deference must be given to state choices, whether they are liberal or conservative. Erwin was less confident that law and politics could be so neatly divided.

I will continue to believe that the law has its own place above politics, but Erwin’s dismissal surely makes that belief harder to sustain. UC Irvine’s inability to keep politics out of its decision-making will make things difficult for the new law school. It will become more difficult to recruit new faculty and to attract the respect that the school would have so easily acquired by giving the deanship to Erwin — and which it so tragically forfeited by its casual, and all too last-minute, withdrawal of the offer.

Dana Parsons, in the OC edition of the LA Times:

Who got to Drake, who’s been chancellor since mid-2005, and told him that Chemerinsky, a well-known constitutional scholar and acknowledged liberal commentator, isn’t the guy for UCI?

Give us the name or names.

Drake insists that nobody leaned on him, that he just had second thoughts.

Not buying it.

And even if I did, how is it that the well-publicized search for the school’s founding dean got to the point where Chemerinsky signed the contract, only to have it dramatically taken away? Pretty ham-handed either way.

Although there’s plenty we don’t know so far, one thing is clear: UCI comes across like a backwater community college holding its first raffle.

Ouch. And that’s just in one newspaper!

Unfortunately for Drake, he’s going to have a little heat on him at home, too. Also from today’s Times piece:

Jon Wiener, a UCI history professor, called the dismissal “the biggest violation of academic freedom in the history of UCI. Nationally, it is the biggest academic freedom case of the year. Some people are saying we have to take this to the faculty senate and make a faculty-wide statement condemning it.”

Drake’s stupidity- and really, there’s no other word for it – strikes me as the kind of fuck-up that’s almost irreparable. The only thing that might get you out of it is to find a similarly well regarded, more liberal candidate in to prove that it wasn’t about politics.

Or to quit, and let a successor who hasn’t yet proven his or her buffoonery start from scratch.

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