Michael Drake: Why I let Chemerinsky go


T he University of California at Irvine over the last several months has conducted a nationwide search for the founding dean of our school of law. Last week, I made an offer to Duke Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, an eminent academician, legal scholar and commentator. I subsequently made the very difficult decision that Professor Chemerinsky was not the right person for the dean’s position and informed him that we were rescinding our offer and continuing the recruitment process.

My decision -- and the motivation for it -- have been the subject of extensive media coverage over the last few days, much of which has been characterized by assumption, conjecture and hearsay.

Let me set the record straight. I made a management decision -- not an ideological or political one -- to rescind the offer to Professor Chemerinsky. The decision was mine and mine alone. It was not based on pressure from donors, politicians or the University of California Board of Regents. It was a culmination of discussions -- with many people over a period of time -- that convinced me that Professor Chemerinsky and I would not be able to partner effectively to build a world-class law school at UC Irvine. That is my overarching priority.


My decision was absolutely not based on Professor Chemerinsky’s place on the political spectrum, which is, in fact, quite similar to my own.

Nor was this a matter of academic freedom. UC Irvine -- and I personally -- staunchly support and defend freedom of speech and the expression of a wide range of viewpoints on our campus; nowhere is this more important than at a public university. There are individuals with political views far more liberal than Professor Chemerinsky’s or mine who conduct research, teach and serve in senior administrative positions at UC Irvine.

Independent thinking and autonomy are essential qualities that we seek in our law school dean. As academic leaders, we must also guide the university in ways that will inspire open discussion and empower our students to be courageous in seeking the truth. And we must ensure that the broader goals of our institution prevail.

I am confident that our search process will ultimately result in the appointment of a founding dean who will work with my colleagues and me to build the world-class law school that we envision for UC Irvine.

Michael V. Drake is the chancellor of UC Irvine.