Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Growing pains

I will stop the OCI posts for this one important post, mainly about how a UC to the south/east-ish of UCLA has really screwed something up.

UC Irvine sometimes feels like the ugly duckling to UCLA, and about a year ago, it was announced that there was going to create its own new law school to launch in 2009. The new law school should have some important implications for, not so much UCLA and USC, but for the lower-ranked LA law schools and the existing Orange County law schools. The school got a $20 million donation from a conservative billionaire real estate developer, and will be named the Donald Bren School of Law.

Any 1L who has taken Con Law will be familiar with Erwin Chemerinsky and his hornbook. He spent 20 years at USC before moving to Duke. He is perhaps the foremost liberal Con Law scholars in the country, and supposedly awe-inspiring. And he was recently recruited by UC Irvine to head the law school and he accepted. Getting him to be the Dean was a major coup. Dean Chemerinsky!

At least for a few days.

Mere days after being hired, he was fired, the stated reason being that the school didn't realize how liberal he was when they hired him. If Irvine didn't realize that the country's foremost liberal Con Law scholar was a liberal, they must not have conducted the Dean search very thoroughly or they were just stupid. See news stories here and here. The official response from the Irvine Chancellor is here.

The real reason: the conservative donors at Irvine, including Bren, didn't like liberal Chemerinsky, and threatened to withhold further support unless he was fired.

Honestly, this was probably the worst decision Irvine could have made, made 2 years before the school even opens. Ave Mari...I mean UC Irvine, will now forever be branded as a "conservative" law school, despite its status as a public UC institution. But perhaps more importantly, it tells the academic community that it is subject to outside political influence and that nonacademics will be the ones making the academic decisions. And finally, it sends a warning message to potential faculty members that their academic freedoms will always be subject to check by outsiders.

I might be no university administrator, but I have two words for Irvine if they are so worried about the conservative donors jumping ship: liberal donors.

Wikipedia entry on Bren: here
Volohk Conspiracy commentary, including nearly uniform criticism by conservative scholars

The LA Times today (9/14) did a 6-page series on the whole affair. Some highlights:
-Main LA Times article today: here
-Chemerinsky's op-ed: here
-Chancellor Drake's attempt at a response: his explanation is that he is convinced that "Professor Chemerinsky and I would not be able to partner effectively to build a world-class law school at UC Irvine."

UCI reportedly working on a deal to rehire Chemerinsky (9/15)


Blogger Strange Bird said...

The problem? It's all there in the last sentence: "liberal" and "Irvine." The end.

6:13 PM  
Blogger paragon2pieces said...

i am simultaneously amused/disgusted that bren (the man, the myth, THE irvine company) could get the likes of chemerinsky fired. i must be living under a rock because i hadn't heard any of this. thanks for the news!

9:27 PM  
Blogger Strange Bird said...

SERIOUSLY to update3? I thought they might, but he'd be crazy to take the offer. As would any professors they tried to hire.

3:43 PM  

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