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September 12, 2007

Cowardly UC Irvine

I grew up on the UC Irvine campus, so it's not only an outrage, but a personal disappointment, that the chancellor flew to North Carolina to personally fire Erwin Chemerinsky, the Duke Constitutional Law scholar recruited to head the university's new law school, because his liberal views were "too politically controversial." Brian Leiter adds:

Some colleagues speculate that Irvine hoped to get more donations from Donald Bren, the real estate developer who endowed the Law School and who is also a major donor to the Republican Party . Whether Mr. Bren played any role in this is something that perhaps the newspapers which investigate this story may unearth. Even if financial gain was the motive, the University, I suspect, has miscalculated the costs and benefits of its misconduct, since the reputational damage the school will now incur is likely to be quite substantial.

Chemerinsky, incidentally, helped write the charter of the city of Los Angeles and was named "one of the top 20 legal thinkers in America" by Legal Affairs. Loyola Laurie Levenson, who UCI was trying to recruit as a professor, said, "For a new law school to start infringing on academic freedom even before it opens its door does not bode well for this institution. I have talked to Erwin quite a bit about his plans for the new law school. He did not have a political agenda. He had an excellence agenda."

This was a very bad move.

Update: Dilan Esper, a former student of Chemerinsky's, has some illuminating thoughts in the comments section. Read them.

September 12, 2007 | Permalink


Er war wahrscheinlich nicht genug parteitreue.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina | Sep 12, 2007 4:29:07 PM

I am a former student of Professor Chemerinsky. He is very popular with students, both because he is very personable and one of the nicest human beings you will ever meet, and also because, frankly, his class is way too easy. (He delivers his lectures in outline form and rarely goes beyond a very shallow discussion of the holdings of cases and a solicitation of views about the case from his students. This makes it really easy to simply go back to the outline and memorize what you need to do well on the exam.)

But he is also a doctrinaire liberal. And I mean doctrinaire. The type of person who insists in class that those who support abortion rights may only be called by their preferred label, "pro-choice", while those who oppose abortion rights may not be called by theirs ("pro-life") under any circumstances, but must either be called "anti-abortion" or "anti-choice". The type of person who actually wanted to put language in the Los Angeles charter protecting a right to abortion (I guess this was to address the very likely sceniaro where Roe v. Wade is overturned, and state Supreme Court precedent is also overturned, and state legislation protecting the right of abortion is also overturned and replaced with laws banning abortion). As you might imagine, this made it difficult to draft a charter, which was supposed to be a bipartisan project.

The point being, Professor Chemerinsky has great skills that would serve him well as a Dean. But one cannot be blamed for thinking that he is not the type of person who is likely to separate his politics from his job.

I think it is outrageous that he lost this job due to his politics. But, strangely, I also find it not unsurprising. UC Irvine's donor base really is conservative; they are the moneyed interests behind Orange County, whose families moved there and developed the county as a white suburban alternative to percieved problems with minorities in LA. Erwin's politics are well known; I don't think I am saying anything in this post that any student of his can't confirm.

In that sense, this is just a reminder of an ugly reality; donors to universities can and do skew the educational mission, sometimes in very regressive ways. The good news is that I am sure, however, that should Erwin want to become a dean of a top law school, the opportunity will present itself; he is a star professor and the type of person that just about any law school would feel fortunate to have on its faculty.

Posted by: Dilan Esper | Sep 12, 2007 4:42:41 PM

A liberal fired behind the Orange Curtain? I wish that I could muster up some surprise.

Posted by: catherine | Sep 12, 2007 4:59:21 PM

His political views were too liberal for California but not too liberal for North Carolina?

Regardless, you don't fire a Duke constitutional law scholar. Duke Con law professor = I'm a bad ass motherfucker.

Posted by: Phil | Sep 12, 2007 5:29:10 PM

I never took Chemerinsky, but I can tell you as a lawyer his is a name most lawyers and legal academics know well. Whatever his merits, and I suspect they would have been substantial, his appointment would have brought instant credibility to the law school. His unceremonious dumping will now, by contrast, bring instant ignominy. Doesn't seem like a smart move to me, but hey, I wouldn't go around trying to start yet another law school anyway -- it ain't like there's a shortage, ya know?

Posted by: Glenn | Sep 12, 2007 5:39:14 PM

The City of Irvine turned Duncan Black, Ph.D from bespoke suit wearing Yuppie Day Trader with Hummer into the Dirty Fucking Hippie that leads the revolution.

Posted by: You have to understand | Sep 12, 2007 6:06:57 PM

His political views were too liberal for California but not too liberal for North Carolina?

You don't know too much about either place, right? 'Cause Orange County is extremely conservative, while the Research Triangle in North Carolina is pretty much like any part of the country that's home to the well-educated, like Lawrence, KS or Austin, TX.

Posted by: Stephen | Sep 12, 2007 6:19:30 PM

I believe I read that the new law school was going to focus on public-interest law which surely suggests that the Dean shouldn't be some Federalist Society hack working to undermine the very basis of the school's focus.

When the public starves its public institutions of money to grow, change and thrive, it shouldn't be too surprised that wealthy conservatives are there in numbers to see their agendas observed. You get what you pay for.

Will the rich get to determine the law schools colors too? (Orange and Red?)

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Sep 12, 2007 6:32:49 PM

I grew up in Irvine too, and I can tell you nobody there wants a law school. They can't get public support, and the only person supporting them, right now, is Donald Bren (Irvine Company)---builder of homes----for future law faculty ie. not someone you'd want to anger!

Posted by: Maxine | Sep 12, 2007 9:24:15 PM

It never struck me that California needed another law school. This strikes me as a vanity project of the UCI Chancellor and the conservative donor base. For that very reason, Chemerinsky could have provided instant credibility for the school, and without such a big name, it may end up being regarded as just one of the many 3rd tier law schools that dot the California landscape.

Posted by: Tyro | Sep 12, 2007 9:32:41 PM

It's not 3rd tier if they've got the UC system behind 'em. Anything "UC" confers instant status and prestige, no matter who runs the school.

Posted by: Maxine | Sep 12, 2007 9:46:08 PM

My wife is one of his current students -- I can't speak to what he's like in class, but he has never struck me as doctrinaire. (I'm quite liberal myself, but not what you'd call an "orthodox" liberal.) I agree 100% that he's personable and very, very kind, though. And my wife raves about him. UCI's loss is Duke's continued gain, AFAICT.

Posted by: Fr Chris | Sep 12, 2007 10:02:25 PM

I am a current student of Erwin Chemerinsky's (in an upper-level law class) and I consider myself very fortunate to know him and be able to work with him. I had him for Constitutional Law, as well. He is an extremely kind and patient person and an excellent teacher.
(In response to the above:)
Although it is often clear what Professor Chemerinsky's views are, he always tries to get students to contribute to any discussion from both sides and will articulate a side he opposes if it is underrepresented.

In short, I can't think well of anyone who believes they are better off without Erwin Chemerinsky. We at Duke are lucky to have him as a member of our community.

Posted by: Sue | Sep 12, 2007 10:18:33 PM

There should be severe consequences from the ABA and Law Review Journals etc. Prohibitive and draconian consequences. No accreditation or publication.

Make the new law school impossible. Otherwise the rich will literally determine all US Law.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Sep 12, 2007 10:25:23 PM

The UCI school have gut-shot themselves before they even started.

I wonder what the next flash of genius will be? Maybe each student will be required to purchase an Irvine condominium. That might solve a couple of local problems and keep the donor base happy.

Posted by: ice weasel | Sep 12, 2007 11:17:55 PM

There is a reason UCI's sports teams are called the Anteaters. ;-) Seriously, Orange County is fairly conservative. It's interesting since a lot of it is pretty dense population wise.

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience | Sep 12, 2007 11:40:16 PM

Seriously, Orange County is fairly conservative. ... a lot of it is pretty dense population wise.


Posted by: feh | Sep 12, 2007 11:45:39 PM

bad italics?

Posted by: feh | Sep 12, 2007 11:46:28 PM

It never struck me that California needed another law school.

It probably doesn't, but it could definitely use another public law school. It only has four, two of which are quite excellent, and also quite difficult to get into. Another of which, while public (Hastings), is in San Francisco, which makes room and board cost prohibitive for many. Even in-state it's not cheap. When I was applying in 1998, it was cheaper to go the Arizona schools out of state than to go to any of the California schools on in-state tuition.

Illinois, for example, has three public law schools for about 1/3 the population. Arizona has two for 1/6 the population. And their low tuition is probably why, despite low first tier rankings, they're both very selective. I assume they have a lot of Californians applying.

Posted by: Seitz | Sep 13, 2007 2:56:27 AM

But one cannot be blamed for thinking that he is not the type of person who is likely to separate his politics from his job.

Okay, fine and dandy. See, what an institution would normally do in that case is vet a candidate and determine if he or she is a good fit for the job. And if they're not, they don't get offered the job to begin with. What part of "the college thought he'd be good for the position, offered him the job, he signed a contract, and then was fired a week later" are you missing? What, the chancellor had a waking dream in the meantime? This just screams that it wasn't UCI itself that had a problem with Professor Chemerinsky, but that some influential wingnut fuckwit threw a temper tantrum.(*) But hey, even if so, there's nothing to see here. Just private interests dictating academic hiring policy to a public university. Move along.

(*)Alternatively, they hired him without having any knowledge about him beyond the fact that he's famous. Somehow, the total incompetence required for this scenario isn't very reassuring, either.

Posted by: mds | Sep 13, 2007 8:24:11 AM

It probably doesn't, but it could definitely use another public law school.

While I favor a vibrant culture of public educational institutions on principle, I'm really not sure that California has a shortage of lawyers that should be remedied by creating access to low-cost law schools (though, I think CA is somewhere in the middle in terms of per capita lawyers).

I don't think MA has any public law schools, or maybe it has only one. In any case, there was a proposal in the state legislature to create one, and it was pointed out that MA had one of the highest per capita populations of lawyers in the country, so one could hardly make a case that building a new law school at government expense served the public interest.

Posted by: Tyro | Sep 13, 2007 9:45:27 AM

Great Stuff....

Less indoctrination and more facts please.

Posted by: El Viajero | Sep 13, 2007 10:35:00 AM

Uh, Ezra, her name is Laurie Levenson and she teaches at Loyola Law. Her name is not "Loyola Laurie Levenson."

Posted by: grammar monster | Sep 13, 2007 12:18:12 PM

Law schools are absolute cash cows for a university. another ph.d. program ... not so much.

Posted by: Andrew | Sep 13, 2007 12:31:16 PM

Hey, Phil, Duke Law isn't that great, so his current institutional affiliation has nothing to do with it.

Posted by: John | Sep 13, 2007 12:47:13 PM

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