O.C. goes P.C. on E.C.

"O.C." of course stands for Orange County, the home of U.C. Irvine, whose brand new law school is sorely testing Mark Twain's maxim that there's no such thing as bad publicity by making headlines before a single student has enrolled, through the firing, just days after the hiring, of founding dean Erwin Chemerinsky ("E.C."). If I didn't know Chemerinsky as well as I do, I would assume that the powers that be at Irvine had discovered some skeleton in his closet, like an outstanding warrant for dealing crack or a secret life as a mafia hit man. That's because the official explanation is so transparently idiotic. First, University Chancellor Michael Drake said that he had gotten heat from conservatives (presumably alumni?) who thought Chemerinsky too liberal. Then, perhaps realizing that a state institution might be in legal trouble for rescinding a deal based on the political views of an employee, Drake backtracked and said it wasn't the substance of Chemerinsky's views so much as the fact that he was publicly outspoken. Quoted in a L.A. Times story (here), Drake expressed disappointment that on the very day that Chemerinsky was offered the job, he authored an Op-Ed critical of the Justice Dept's handling of capital cases. Drake said:
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."
This is so unbelievably stupid that it can only be a lie. If Drake meant Chemerinsky wouldn't have time to devote to "political" causes while serving as dean, he obviously doesn't know Chemerinsky. Nor is there any inconsistency between personal outspokenness and deaning. A law school dean is not a judge, and even some judges (e.g., 7th Cir Judge Richard Posner) are extremely outspoken when writing in their personal capacities. So long as it is clear that a law school dean is speaking for himself as a scholar rather than on behalf of his institution, there's absolutely nothing wrong with his taking public positions. Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh has been a vocal critic of various Bush Administration policies lately, and that certainly hasn't harmed the reputation of Yale. Closer to Irvine and on the conservative side of the political spectrum, Pepperdine Law Dean Kenneth Starr has (quite properly) not scaled back his public activities since assuming the helm there.

Accordingly, it would appear that the only plausible explanation for UC-Irvine's decision to can Chemerinsky was the first one given: pressure from the political right. I'll have more to say about this episode in coming posts, but for now I'll just ask readers to keep it in mind the next time someone denounces universities as hotbeds of left/liberal political correctness.