Thursday, September 13, 2007

Amateur Hour at UC-Irvine

Here's a story I give Tony Palmeri about a 100% chance of saying something about in the next few days:

Erwin Chemerinsky, the prominent legal scholar slated to be founding dean at University of California, Irvine's new law school, had his offer withdrawn because of controversy created by his well-known liberal views, Chemerinsky said Wednesday.

A professor at Duke University School of Law, Chemerinsky accepted the post last week after months of talks, but on Tuesday UC-Irvine's chancellor Michael Drake asked him to give it up.

"He said I proved to be too politically controversial," Chemerinsky said in a phone interview from his Durham, N.C., home.

The "good" thing about this colossally bad idea is that it is being uniformly denounced by just about every one with either a printing press or an internet server. Did we mention Chemerinsky also had Californian ties? Here's the L.A. Times:

What makes Chemerinsky stand out is not his liberalism but the intellectual rigor of his analysis and the effectiveness of his argument. He works well with scholars of other viewpoints, as attested to by the cries of outrage from conservative scholars at his treatment by UC Irvine. Chemerinsky also sets a fine example for law students by putting his abilities to work not just in the courtroom and the classroom but in service to community. He co-wrote the current Los Angeles City Charter. He conducted, for the Police Protective League, a study of the LAPD's handling of the Rampart corruption scandal.

It was a great loss to the region when he 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.

He's even being praised (or at least defended) by many voices on the right.

The school will likely suffer for being utterly clueless in the handling of the matter:

And there is another mystery. The school had a huge interest in an amicable separation with Chemerinsky. Could those who are acting for the school have failed to perceive that there would be devastating bad press? The school has trumpeted its ambitions to become a top tier school. I have to assume they tried to avoid an ugly public breakup. Unless they are shockingly incompetent, there must have been an attempt to reach an agreement with Chemerinsky to create a public appearance that would flatter both him and the new law school. They could have papered over the discord with a nice statement that Chemerinsky wished UCI well but had come to appreciate the depth of family's attachment to Duke and that UCI regretfully accepted that decision and remains convinced that he would have made a wonderful dean. So why did the nastiness boil over where we could see it?

There's a lot of suspicion that the nastiness boiled over to the point where all could see it at the behest of Donald Bren, the law school's namesake and big time GOP donor, but there has yet to be any evidence to prove causality in this respect.

Oddly enough, if Mr. Bren was responsible or at least had a hand in giving Chemerinsky his walking papers, the school that bears his name just went from being an ambitious upstart to a farcical laughing stock whose future failures will be traced back to this regrettable incident.

It's going to be hard to bounce back from something this ugly.

MORE: On the bright side, at least in UC-Irvine's case, it could always be worse.

EVEN MORE: Michael Drake responds.

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