Respected but rejected

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The decision last month to hire renowned legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky as founding dean of UC Irvine’s new law school was a stroke of genius. Rescinding that action, as the university’s chancellor did Tuesday, is an act of intellectual cowardice and self-destruction that brands the school as a haven for political correctness and threatens its academic integrity two years before it even opens its doors.

It won’t be much of a lesson for students in the fall of 2009 as they sit down to their contracts class, either. Chancellor Michael V. Drake offered Chemerinsky the post, and the professor accepted and began doing exactly what everyone knew he would do: building an unparalleled board of advisors and founding faculty. Offer, acceptance, binding contract.

Chemerinsky said Drake told him that conservatives were “out to get” him. Drake said the hired-and-dumped dean was not dismissed for his politics, but merely because he was not the “right fit” for Irvine.


What makes Chemerinsky stand out is not his liberalism but the intellectual rigor of his analysis and the effectiveness of his argument. He works well with scholars of other viewpoints, as attested to by the cries of outrage from conservative scholars at his treatment by UC Irvine. Chemerinsky also sets a fine example for law students by putting his abilities to work not just in the courtroom and the classroom but in service to community. He co-wrote the current Los Angeles City Charter. He conducted, for the Police Protective League, a study of the LAPD’s handling of the Rampart corruption scandal.

It was a great loss to the region when he left USC for a position at Duke University in North Carolina. It will be a shame not to bring him back to Southern California.

But it is a greater shame that UC Irvine apparently wants a dean unburdened by academic fame or legal point of view. Orange County, contrary to its stereotype, is a politically diverse and creative powerhouse and deserves a law school that will embody California’s tradition of academic excellence. The decision to rescind Chemerinsky’s deanship puts it on another course altogether.