UC Irvine Law School Foolishly Rescinds Offer of Dean Position to Erwin Chemerinsky Because of Fear of Offending Conservatives:

Brian Leiter reports that the new University of California at Irvine Law School has rescinded its offer of the position of dean to Duke Professor Erwin Chemerinsky because they decided that the hiring of such a liberal dean would attract too much criticism from conservatives.

Although Leiter and I disagree on a great many things, I have to say that he is absolutely right to denounce this boneheaded decision. Chemerinsky is an extremely prominent and widely respected legal scholar. A brand new law school like Irvine was very fortunate that he was willing to become its dean. To be sure, I don't know much about Chemerinsky's administrative skills; some outstanding scholars are poor administrators (and vice versa). But lack of administrative talent on Chemerinsky's part doesn't seem to have been the reason for Irvine's reversal.

The Irvine decisionmakers were simply foolish to believe that Chemerinsky's hiring would produce a major backlash from conservatives that could harm the school. Many prominent law schools have deans significantly more left-wing than Chemerinsky. None of them has attracted a significant conservative backlash for their dean hiring decision, and certainly none has suffered any real harm from such conservative criticism as did occur. Chemerinsky is unquestionably a liberal, but his views on legal issues are actually quite typical of the overwhelmingly left of center legal academy. I can easily name plenty of prominent constitutional law scholars significantly further to the left than Chemerinsky is.

Those conservative and libertarian legal scholars who have commented on Irvine's decision have been uniformly critical. For example, an LA Times story linked by Leiter quotes prominent conservative law professor [and Chapman Law School dean] John Eastman as calling the Irvine decision "a serious misstep." Glenn Reynolds has also denounced it, as has Steve Bainbridge. Among leading American legal scholars (a generally left-liberal bunch, to be sure), Eastman is one of those furthest to the right. If he is against this decision, it's safe to say that Irvine hasn't won itself many conservative friends by rescinding the offer to Chemerinsky.

My own view is that political ideology should not influence the hiring of scholars, except in extraordinarily unusual instances. Administrators are a more complicated case, because they are responsible for overseeing policies with ideological implications and objectives, and because they are supposed to project a positive public image for the school. It may be reasonable to avoid hiring administrators whose ideological views are radically at odds with the policies they are expected to enforce or will seriously damage the school's image. Be that as it may, there is no reason to believe that Chemerinsky's political ideology would prevent him from discharging his duties as dean, or somehow damage Irvine's image. Indeed, UC Irvine's decision to rescind the offer is likely to do far more harm to the school's reputation than hiring him ever could have.

UPDATE: Much of the press coverage on this incident suggests that Irvine's decision was motivated by its desire to avoid offending one particularly important conservative donor. Even if this is true, the decision was still foolish. Satisfying one donor at the expense of damaging the school's reputation throughout the academic community is unlikely to advance Irvine's longterm interests.