Opinion

'Fess up, Chancellor Drake

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So, all's well that endswell, right? Not so fast.


FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier version of this article inferred that "695" of UC Irvine's "employees" signed a petition of protest to Chancellor Michael Drake. Not all of the the signatories are UC Irvine employees.


UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake — who hired well-known lawprofessor and commentator Erwin Chemerinsky to be the founding deanof his new law school on Aug. 16, unhiredhim on Sept. 11 for opaquereasons connected to Chemerinsky's political speech, thenannounced his rehiring Sept. 17 — wants to "putrecent events behind us." I'll bet. It's not every weekthat hundreds of your employees accuse you of attacking "the integrity,reputation, and morale of faculty, staff and students alike," orthat respected law professors from across the political spectrumcall you "disgraceful"and worse.

But even though Chemerinsky has now been hired back, the story isfar from over as far as public interest is concerned, for at leasttwo reasons:

1) We still don'tknow why Drake fired his new law dean in the first place.This would be a mere personnel mystery, if it weren't for the factthat...

2) Drake, while never giving a sensible reason for the dismissal,did tellpeople that it had to do with the content of Chemerinsky'spolitical speech (specifically an Aug.16 Op-Ed in the L.A. Times), and to the "pressure" and "opposition"he was receiving from unnamed Republicans. If an Op-Ed can trulyget an academic — even an administrator— fired, then that's a data point about the erosion of ourfree-speech climate that we deserve to know about.

And if indeed there are Republicans powerful enough to scotch thehiring of a well-known liberal dean, we need to know who theyare, and how exactly they wield their power, so that we can prepareourselves for next time, or take measures to reduce improperinfluence.

And perhaps most relevantly, if a chancellor is just using thechimera of powerful Republicans to justify his own sloppy handlingof a personnel decision, we need to know that too, because we'repaying his salary.

Instead of any of that, here's what Drake said Monday in aconference call with reporters, after being asked what concretedisagreements had been ironed out during his Sunday reconciliationwith Chemerinsky. I'll quote the answer in full, to give maximumflavor to Drake's evasive language:

Yes, here's what I'll say about that and I ask you to respect this. One of the things that Erwin and I — since we will have to work closely together — one of the things that we specified before we discussed all of these things yesterday, is that anything we would like to discuss would be on the table, but that all of it would remain between us, as a confidential communication. So much that happened this last week has been parts of conversations taken out of context and blown into things that have been quite energy-intensive and destructive. Let me say that we had — and I'll let Erwin respond after I finish talking — but we had an in-depth conversation about our working relationship going forward in creating this new law school. And that it was a conversation that was highlighted by all of the areas of disagreement — Freudian slip — all the areas ofagreement and excitement that we had together. And there are a few areas that needed to be adjusted or tuned but, as I said, our agreements were overwhelming, and we were able to resolve any areas of miscommunication. We decided that the content of that discussion that was going to be between us and made it so we could have a very good discussion among us, the two of us who have to work together on this, so I will not talk of anything specific that we spoke of yesterday.
Note the flagrant and ongoing refusal to take responsibility for amess of Drake's own creation: parts of conversations taken outof context and blown into things that have been quiteenergy-intensive and destructive.

Destructive to Drake's and UC Irvine's reputation, sure — anddeservedly so. But destructive to the rest of us too. It doesn'ttake much in campus politics to unleash mutual recriminations, andthere's a population of politicized observers who want nothing morethan to believe the absolute worst from their rhetoricaladversaries. People who believe Orange County to be the home ofknuckle-dragging neanderthals had their biases reinforced thisweek, as did conservatives embittered by double-standards of"academic freedom."

Much of that could be waved away with a single honest explanationfrom Chancellor Drake. The fact that he won't give one sayssomething much worse about UC Irvine than a mere five days' worthof bad headlines.

Matt Welch isassistant editorial page editor; click hereto read more of his Opinion Daily columns. Send us your thoughts atopinion@latimes.com.

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