Law School Deanship Rescinded; Politics Blamed

Erwin Chemerinsky, leading constitutional scholar tapped to head California-Irvine's new school, is told he's too "controversial" (liberal).
September 13, 2007

If Erwin Chemerinsky were ever nominated for a place on the Supreme Court, it's safe to say that he would not be one of those blank slate candidates about whom reporters and would-be critics have to go digging to ascertain his views.

“I’ve been a liberal law professor for 28 years,” Chemerinsky told the Los Angeles Times Wednesday. “I write lots of op-eds and articles, I argue high-profile cases."

Apparently, though, the details of Chemerinsky's background eluded some of those charged with choosing a founding dean for the University of California at Irvine's new law school. After being selected last week for the job -- in what was widely described as a remarkable "coup" for a startup law school -- Chemerinsky was informed Tuesday by Irvine's chancellor, Michael V. Drake, that the university was revoking the offer because Drake had not been fully aware of the extent to which there were "conservatives out to get me," Chemerinsky told the Times.

In an e-mail message late Wednesday, the would-be dean, a well-respected constitutional law scholar at Duke University, confirmed the newspaper's account about the rescinding of the offer, which was first reported by Brian Leiter's Law School Reports.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Drake -- calling Chemerinsky an "eminent academician, legal scholar and commentator" -- said he had "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." He said that the "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." He offered no insight about why he lacked that confidence now, several days after having made the selection originally.

The vibrant and boisterous academic legal blogosphere did not lack for potential explanations, mostly focusing on the political leanings (reflected perhaps in this list of contributions) of the law school's primary benefactor, Donald Bren. And across the political spectrum, academic bloggers and others -- from the Volokh Conspiracy to the Left Coaster to John Leo -- roundly condemned Irvine's decision.

Brian Leiter wrote that "Chemerinsky was a far more prominent scholar than the university had any reason to suppose it would be able to land for a brand new law school," and that "it’s fair to say that the future does not look bright for the planned UC Irvine law school. Who will take the job now given this history?"

Stephen Bainbridge, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, acknowledged on his blog to being "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.

"[B]ut I'm also no fan of firing people because of their political views," Bainbridge wrote. "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."

Added Glenn Reynolds, on Instapundit, noting the condemnation of Irvine from right-leaning scholars and commentators on Chemerinsky's behalf: "I would certainly hope that left-leaning academics would support someone on the right who was treated similarly."


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