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UCI, Chemerinsky put on happy faces after breakup

It should have been a feel-good moment, reflecting all the admiration and respect that warmed the cross-country phone line Monday morning between the chancellor and the professor.

That was clearly how they wanted it to be, UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake and Duke law professor Erwin Chemerinsky. All is well, they said, with both ecstatic that Chemerinsky, after being picked and un-picked to be the founding dean of UCI’s law school, is now picked again.

Ain’t love grand?

The only thing missing from their 30-minute conference call for the media was that nobody piped in the old Peaches and Herb song: “Reunited, and it feels so good.”

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Yes, it probably does feel good for them and many others, because Drake finally got his act together and lured Chemerinsky back into the fold. In the long run, that is what matters most, because jettisoning Chemerinsky after offering him the job last month was, to put it mildly, not playing well.

Just a week after Chemerinsky signed the contract, Drake retracted the offer, doing a great impression of someone buckling under pressure from conservatives who didn’t like Chemerinsky’s liberal viewpoints.

Drake continues to dispute that interpretation, despite Chemerinsky writing in a Times op-ed article last week that Drake specifically cited it when he pulled the plug on the job and with at least two UCI faculty members on the search committee quoting Drake as saying significant opposition led to his decision to rescind the contract offer.

For whatever reasons, Drake backslid on Chemerinsky. Then came the backlash to his backsliding. Then, came Monday with Drake and Chemerinsky announcing that the deal was back on, following Drake’s trip to North Carolina over the weekend to make things right.

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One gets the impression the gentleman from UCI listens closest to whoever speaks to him last.

Drake said Monday the two “have come out of this with a stronger bond than we had before” and Chemerinsky said he’s accepted the offer “with great excitement.” He went out of his way to praise Drake, saying he was “dazzled” when he first met him and wouldn’t have taken the job if not for him.

He probably meant it, because Drake impresses a lot of people. Which is why it is disappointing that he can’t find it in himself to explain how he got gummed up in his own works.

In the face of strong circumstantial evidence, he could have discussed the pressures on him since the Chemerinsky selection became public. Instead, he referred to snippets of conversation being taken out of context and to needing “more comfort” with his new hire.

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That’s his story and he’s sticking to it, but it remains unconvincing. Instead, he left a vague trail on a timeline that doesn’t explain how he offered the job Aug. 16, received Chemerinsky’s acceptance Sept. 4 and then withdrew the offer Sept. 11.

We all understand buyer’s remorse, but what caused it? And what did Chemerinsky do in the interim to ease that remorse?

Drake chose not to clarify that Monday. It was Chemerinsky’s role to be the gracious one, and he played it well. Neither would provide details of their several hours’ visit Sunday in North Carolina, which will leave Drake free to complain about people speculating about it.

Let me be the first:

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Drake: I’ve been horrible to you. I don’t deserve you.

Chemerinsky: I know.

Drake: People were saying awful things about you, and I believed them. Can you forgive me?

Chemerinsky (pausing, then breaking into a wide grin): Of course, you big knucklehead.

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Onward, both men said Monday. Drake described the episode, which attracted national attention both in and out of legal circles, as a “hiccup.”

Chemerinsky says he’s taking the job without reservation and described last week as “amazing” and unlike any he’d had in his life.

Remaining up in the air is whether the UCI Faculty Senate will be content with the outcome and give Drake a pass on the tortured path that got him there.

As for Drake and Chemerinsky, don’t worry. After what they’ve been through, they’ll always have “their” song.

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Cue Peaches and Herb:

“I was a fool to ever leave your side/

Me minus you was such a lonely ride/

The breakup we had has made me lonesome and sad/

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I realize I love you because I want you bad, hey, hey. . . “

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Dana Parsons’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana.parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.


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