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Incompetence, Cowardice, or Willful Self-Destruction?

UC Irvine's decision to rescind its offer to Erwin Chemerinsky (who, I should note, is a colleague and friend) is so outrageous and boneheaded that I can muster only three explanations:

1) Incompetence: This one is obvious. Erwin's views are well known. Any remotely competent administrator should have vetted any fears about his ideology before offering him the job.

2) Cowardice: This one, too, is obvious. Maybe a big donor (rhymes with "wren") or a potential big donor, or someone with political power, balked at Erwin's politics and wanted him ditched on that basis, and UC caved. Wow, what a profile in courage. That should make all members of the UC community sleep well at night, knowing that leaders will give in to donor/political pressure.

3) Willful Self-Destruction: This one is less obvious. Suppose you were a Regent, or some other powerful person in California, and you strongly opposed creating another publicly funded law school but knew that it was moving forward. What would you do? You might try to inflict maximum damage on the law school before it even started, in the hope that this would so harm the school's prospects that it would never open. And I can't think of a better, realistic way of sabotaging the new law school than this one. Yes, I can imagine better unrealistic ways, but in terms of things that could ever happen, this one is an amazing carom shot. In one fell swoop, UC Irvine has lost the best Dean candidate it's going to find, made itself look incompetent and/or cowardly, and made it unlikely that anyone of merit will want to be a Dean or even a professor there (unless they change their minds and offer Erwin the Deanship after all). It's hard to do all those things in single move, but UC Irvine managed to thread that needle. When something that self-destructive occurs, you have to wonder whether it was intentional (at least on the part of some). Remember that the California Postsecondary Education Commission voted against a UC Irvine law school, and the Regents voted without debate to reject that recommendation and move forward on the school. It certainly wouldn't surprise me to find out that some of those Regents didn't want the school to go forward but didn't have the votes to block it. So instead they effectively blocked it this way.

Note, of course, that this last explanation doesn't rule out one of the first two. Indeed, all three could be at work — incompetence on the part of those who should have vetted, sabotage on the part of those who didn't want a law school, and cowardice on the part of those who caved in to the arguments of the saboteurs. A trifecta of outrageous behavior.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. If This Isn't Sabotage, Then What Is?
  2. Incompetence, Cowardice, or Willful Self-Destruction?
chrismn (mail):
I'm a conservative, disagree with Chemerinsky on everything, and think this is outrageous.

If I were a trustee (I don't know the UC system, but I'm looking for the title of someone above chancellor), this is the solution I would come to.

Fire the chancellor. Rehire Chemerinsky, who might be willing to do it if the chancellor that fired him were no longer there.
9.12.2007 11:18pm
Eric M. Freedman (mail):
Well, Eugene, it seems to me that some professor at a California law school who is well respected across the political spectrum should spearhead an appropriate sign-on letter so that all of us who support the existence of a diverse array of quality law schools can make our voices heard.
9.12.2007 11:25pm
e:
I'm guessing he costs too much. They needed more professors, and prestige can be difficult to fit into the cost/benefit analysis.
9.12.2007 11:42pm
e:
But I suppose the cost issue would go in the incompetence category for offering the job without a thoughtful plan.
9.12.2007 11:44pm
e:
Nevermind, I'll go back to sleep now. [moderator feel free to delete]
9.12.2007 11:49pm
Justin (mail):
Occum's razor suggests the answer is simple: They hired Chemerinsky as the best candidate for the job, and the naming donor got pissed off and threatened some action. The answer is #2.
9.13.2007 12:02am
r78:
It is interesting to consider these questions in conjunction with the other VC post recently about the "intellectual roots of Islamofacism". That post was a clumsy attempt to link Islamic Fascism with Mussolini style facism, etc.

It is unlikely that Chemerinsky affair is unrelated to objections by self-styled "conservatives" had to his appointment. The point being that the "roots" of fascism are not limited to various European intellectuals, the "roots" exist in everyone, including many of those Americans who call themselves "conservatives."

For further support, consider only Bill Donohue's objection to some tasteless remarks Kathy Griffin made at some awards show which got the network to delete her comments from the broadcast.

There is no shortage of people in America who want to silence those with whom they disagree.
9.13.2007 12:03am
V. Shiff (mail):
Or perhaps he would not have made the place left wing enough.
9.13.2007 12:12am
Brian G (mail) (www):
I hate to say it, but I have to laugh at all of this. California liberals have been doing things like this for years, but only now, when a highly-respected liberal gets the shaft, does it upset a lot of people. This is business as usual in California, only this time the guy getting the shaft isn't the ususal suspect.

With that being said, I think what they did was a disgrace. Although I read a lot of his work in law school and had some disagreements, I found his work to be engaging and it helped me to adjust some of my views. U.C. Irvine lost big time and it is from their own idiocy.
9.13.2007 12:36am
clarice (mail):
Incompetence, Regents, donors.
9.13.2007 12:46am
wb (mail):
The moral rot in the UC system is deeply connected with its President Robert Dynes. How can anyone be surprised at moral cowardice in an institution with such a leader. Regime change can't come too soon.
9.13.2007 12:55am
Gaius Marius:
The sort of nonsense exhibited by the Regents is the same sort of nonsense I would expect from liberals at institutions like Harvard. The Regents know better, and frankly should behave better, than to let some uppity donor veto a public institution's right to choose a qualified candidate simply on the basis of that candidate's known political views.
9.13.2007 1:01am
Lucius Cornelius Sulla FC:
As Harry Reid would say, "He's a partisan, and the last thing we need as [a dean] is a partisan."
9.13.2007 1:27am
guest (mail):
Maybe, if you accept the Chancellor's version of events rather than Chemerinsky's, there's a fourth explanation. The Chancellor was quoted in the OC Register as follows:


In a phone interview Wednesday, Drake said that he did not succumb to pressure from anyone to replace Chemerinsky and admitted he didn't think the regents would have rejected his candidate. Instead, he said he had come to believe in recent weeks that "he wasn't the right person for us at this time."

"I knew he was a lightning rod, and I became uncomfortable going forward with him as the founding dean," Drake said. "It was a variety of small things, a whole series of interactions we had, that led me to believe that. I decided I would not be comfortable building the school with him. Now, I'm sorry that has turned public."




Perhaps, as he suggests, as he started working with Chemerinsky and got to know him, he simply decided that he wasn't the right person for the job.
9.13.2007 1:42am
Lucius Cornelius Sulla FC:
The more interesting question is the value of hiring any star dean. Sure, professors will know his name and reputation, and some will be enticed to hire on.

But I'd bet that 95% of applicants to any garden variety law school neither know nor care who the dean is. Even at top 5 schools, I'd bet that few students were attracted by the chance to be meet their deans.
9.13.2007 2:11am
Bombast:
Lucius - I think in this case the greatest benefit would have been in getting the school accredited. Remember, it wasn't that long ago that Chapman - only 15 minutes away if the freeway is clear - ran into serious trouble getting accredited. He's both a star and far, far to the left - exactly what the ABA wants.

So, while I find Chemerinsky revolting, I think Drake's decision is more complex and interesting than the critics believe. Drake knew there would be backlash. He may have underestimated it, but he knew at the least he was giving up the Star Dean's power for recruiting faculty and students, and getting accredited.

What did he believe he was giving all that up for?

Certainly, the large money donors in OC would not have worked well with Chemerinsky. Not just Bren, but Segerstrom, Crean etc. OC doesn't have the liberal large money base that LA, San Francisco, New York or Seattle has.

But Drake knew that before he made the original offer. So it had to be things that he learned between then and now.

Personally, I think he figured out that Chemerinsky was a publicity hound without a commitment to justice. After all, he sat in the center of the whirlwind at Duke, and never wrote a word about the gross miscarriage of justice going on right in front of him.
9.13.2007 2:33am
Justin (mail):
Yes Gaius, its all the liberals fault that Chemerinsky got fired for being too liberal. You nailed it.
9.13.2007 3:37am
Tony Tutins (mail):
How much influence can big money donors have over a tax-supported institution? For example, if you have visited a UC school, you'll notice that the buildings are typically named for former profs, not donors.
9.13.2007 3:43am
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Maybe, if you accept the Chancellor's version of events rather than Chemerinsky's, there's a fourth explanation. The Chancellor was quoted in the OC Register as follows:

In a phone interview Wednesday, Drake said that he did not succumb to pressure from anyone to replace Chemerinsky and admitted he didn't think the regents would have rejected his candidate. Instead, he said he had come to believe in recent weeks that "he wasn't the right person for us at this time."

"I knew he was a lightning rod, and I became uncomfortable going forward with him as the founding dean," Drake said. "It was a variety of small things, a whole series of interactions we had, that led me to believe that. I decided I would not be comfortable building the school with him. Now, I'm sorry that has turned public."


Perhaps, as he suggests, as he started working with Chemerinsky and got to know him, he simply decided that he wasn't the right person for the job.


That explanation actually makes a lot of sense. There are too many things that don't fit with the "conservative donor decided to pull some strings to get the leftwing law dean bounced" meme. For one thing, the donor doesn't seem all that "conservative" given that his personal website focus on conservation issues* and his campaign contributions seem largely directed to more moderate Republicans like Olympia Snowe and John McCain. For another, this school was publicly known to be focusing on "public interest" law per its mission statement -- giving $20 million to a school like that seems to hardly be the act of someone with an ideological agenda (unless it's to promote "public interest" law). You'd think if he was trying to use his money to gain influence over the school, he'd try to steer the mission of the school to a more conservative or centrist direction. Also as others have pointed out, Chemerinsky's ideological views are well known and it seems highly unlikely that if that was what made him objectionable, it would have taken this long in the process for the donor to discover them and speak up.

There used to be something called the 72-hour rule that when a controversial story first breaks, it takes about 72 hours for the truth to be known. I suspect that in the next couple of days a lot of people will find that the actual facts are different than what we've been told so far.

* Not that the two are necessarily contradictory.
9.13.2007 5:32am
fishbane (mail):
Now, I'm sorry that has turned public.

Well, I belive that part.

For one thing, the donor doesn't seem all that "conservative" given that his personal website focus on conservation issues

He's a development baron in Irvine. Google around some. This is like RJ Reynold's website discouraging teen smoking.
9.13.2007 7:21am
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
Can I have "all of the above"? Is there a category for "stoopid"?
9.13.2007 11:22am
GuestWho (mail):
How much influence can big money donors have over a tax-supported institution?

Potentially plenty... given that California funds only about 27% of Boalt Hall's budget.

Money might have been a factor but what rings true based on my experience and correlates with the Chancellor's OC Register comments is this explanation . Do you think the law is above politics? If you do, then EC is a "lightening rod." If you don't, then what do you care if he writes OpEds?

FYI TT, at Boalt I just I loved Prof. Western Addition. Where is he now?
9.13.2007 11:29am
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Hey Stuart,

Eugene just posted that apparently the reason Erwin lost (yet another) dean's position is because he wasn't willing to focus less on writing op ed pieces and more on developing legal education. You know, the job that he was actually being hired to do.

I look forward to you and every other person who jumped the gun and trashed the regents (who never opposed his appointment) and the donors (who never said a word either) acting like a man and issuing them a public apology on this forum.

But I won't hold my breath.
9.13.2007 2:09pm
hey (mail):
All professors and administrators should be at will. Tenure is simply a conspiracy of the leftists that infest our academy to entrench themselves and enrich their cause unjustly.

Conservative deans never get fired, because they never get hired. The conspiracy is a substantial fraction of all non-leftist law professors in the country. Until law professors are within a 2:1 ratio of politicaal contributions and support, there will be no such thing as justice in the country. Time for a Shakespearean solution!
9.13.2007 2:12pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
All professors and administrators should be at will.

Remember, hey, that the academy competes with the private sector, which pays more. You are going to have to explain how you would attract better professors by taking away one of the key inducements.
9.13.2007 3:08pm

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