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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.

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If This Isn't Sabotage, Then What Is?

I noted two days ago that one possible explanation for the actions of at least some of those who apparently pressured* Michael Drake to rescind the offer to Erwin Chemerinsky was a desire to derail the new law school. As the LA Times article quoted below notes (Hat tip to Brian Leiter), a delay in the opening of the law school is now a very real possibility. I can't get inside the heads of those who made the decision, but if they wanted to do maximum damage to their law school, they couldn't have done a much better job. From the LA Times article:

Officials said the turnaround on Chemerinsky could delay the opening of the law school — scheduled for 2009 — and so tarnish the institution that it would be difficult to assemble the scholars and staff needed to establish the school as one of the nation's best — UCI's long-cherished goal....

[O]fficials leading the launch of the law school said the decision makes it likely the school will not be ready to accept its first class as scheduled in 2009.

In order to meet the target, plans called for a dean to be in place this fall and for six to eight senior faculty members to then be hired this academic year. The search for Chemerinsky took nine months before a formal agreement was reached, and search committee members said they would now probably start again from scratch.

"We had three other finalists, and one of them would have definitely done it a week ago," said psychology professor Elizabeth F. Loftus, a member of the committee. "If you asked them today, I don't know. I don't think the law school will be derailed, but who knows what's going to happen next?"

*On the subject of external pressure, the same article in the LA Times says:

Loftus said Thursday that the chancellor told the committee during an emergency meeting Wednesday night that he was forced to make the decision by outside forces whom he did not name. A second member of the committee confirmed Loftus' account to The Times but asked to remain anonymous.

"I asked whether it was one or two voices or an avalanche, and the answer is that it was an avalanche."

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. If This Isn't Sabotage, Then What Is?
  2. Incompetence, Cowardice, or Willful Self-Destruction?
15 Comments