Friday, September 14, 2007

Erwin Chemerinsky, They Hardly Knew Ye...

Haven't you seen or heard anything as pathetic as what's coming out of a Orange County university campus, where a university president behaved like an indian giver reneging on what was promised because he kowtowed to elements wielding undue influence?

That's exactly what happened on September 11 where the University of California-Irvine rescinded its offer to former USC law Erwin Chemerinsky to become Dean of its School of Law, with Chancellor Michael V. Drake coyingly hinting at a swelling opposition by conservative forces within the university.

Apparently what raised their ire was a scathing Op-Ed piece Chemerinsky recently penned attacking then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for his attempts to amend California's process, making it more difficult for death row inmates to have their case reviewed in a federal court. Given that -- even in a "free" society protected and encumbered by law -- UC-Irvine would have the audacity to call into question Chemerinsky's views in an ex post facto fashion, particularly when the university itself has been, or may have been swayed and unduly influenced by intramural personal and political pressures.

Drake's dubious decision has drawn ire from many in the academic communities -- both from the left and the right. Pepperdine University law professor Douglas W. Kmiec, whom has debated Chemerinsky on numerous occasions, gave him his due for his civility towards those who voiced opposing viewpoints. And the Los Angeles Times called the decision for what it was: "(A)n 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."

As Chemerinsky elequently reminds us, "Tenure has many costs, but it exists so that academics will feel free to express themselves without fear of reprisal. It is based on the idea that everyone benefits from the free exchange of ideas. Without academic freedom, the reality is that many faculty members would be chilled and timid in expressing their views, and the discussion that is essential for the advancement of thought would be lost." He further adds, "The truth is that a person's politics should play no role in the decision to hire them for a faculty or administrative position. All that matters is that the individual be committed to creating an institution where all viewpoints will be respected and flourish. That is what academic freedom is all about."

People within the UC-Irvine campus community have a right to be concerned, particularly with how media coverage of the affair conveys the message about what the university is all about. The perception that UCI has been effectively castrated as a respected institutuon of learning as a result of Drake's caving in to internceine political pressures is indeed enought to give one cause for concern.

Let's face it, folks. For all the talk about it being a cesspool of conservatism that gave us the likes of John Schmitz, Orange County is more diverse in its politics and socio-ideology than people give it credit for. Unfortunately, when you have Donald Bren forking over ten million smackaroos to set up the law school, and you have conservatives fuming over the selection of Chemerinsky to helm its Law School, then the questional nexus of money and ideology comes into play. There is no doubt that some conservative elements within the UC system dislike Chemerinsky so intensely not because of his ideology, but because of his willingness to speak out so passionately on the Op-Ed pages of our nation's newspapers that they obviously working their coercions behind the scenes, which led to the big brouhaha that's still unfolding.

UC-Irvine Chancellor Michael V. Drake's conduct throughout this sordid debacle has been inexcusably shameful. You don't hire someone, give them a contract and then change your mind a week later. To add insult to injury, the reasons he give don't even make sense. This is not just deliction of fiduciary duties and obligations. This is about being cowardly supine to undue influences over the final outcome. Olso, one also gets the impression just by reading the media reports that the political atmosphere on campus is stifling, corrupt, and rife with undue influences being wielded by those with ulterior personal or political motives.

I have neither met nor have had the opportunity to meet the man. Surely, Chemerinsky has engendered a lot of professional and personal respect over the course of his career. If Chemerinsky's "unwillingness to subordinate his autonomy and personal profile for the good of the institution" was a problem, then the problem obviously wasn't him, it was the university itself.

Erwin Chemerinsky, they hardly knew ye. It is their loss, not yours.

10/12/07 UPDATE: Publicly embarrassed by the public fallout pertaining to the withdrawing of the job offer to Chemerinsky, the Los Angeles Times reports that on yesterday, UC Irvine officials were attempting to broker a deal to once again hire Chemerinsky as dean of its fledging law school -- just three days after its chancellor set off a national furor by dumping him. Needless to say, things were smoothed out to where Chemerinsky proceeded on his onward path.

The perpetrator behind all this is Michael Schroeder, one of Orange County's most powerful GOP political players, who had a historical pattern of wielding undue influence when it suited his partisan purposes. He organized a political posse against Chemerinsky, going as far as distributing Drake's cellphone number to protesters so that they could call the chancellor.

As conservative commentator Hugh Hewett pines, "The damage to UCI's and the UC system's reputation keeps growing. The regents should step in and renew Chemerinsky's offer. If they don't, the pressure on the ABA and the AALS to make an example out of UCI in the accreditation process will be intense. And in sharing his thoughts on the Chemerinsky debacle, Chapman University law professor Denis Binder is quick to remind us: "Conservatives understand that political litmus tests in the Academy will disadvantage them in appointments, promotions, and tenure. McCarthyism ruled the 1950’s with great universities such as Berkeley, Michigan, Washington, and some of the Ivy’s firing liberal professors. Academic Freedom and tenure did not exist then. We worry about the left-wing equivalent of McCarthyism today."

In addition, the Times reports that alongside Schroeder and his partisan posse, L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, and California Chief Justice Ronald M. George (who criticized Chemerinsky's grasp of death penalty appeals), have likewise sought to derail the appointment.

But what really exposed Antonvich for the partisan wing-nut-job he truly is was this doozie on the Los Angeles Times Blog, where Antonovich left a voicemail message with the Associated Press, stating that making Chemerinsky the the head of the law school "would be like appointing al-Qaida in charge of homeland security. This led Scott Horton of Harper's to point out that Chemerinsky "was the target of a quiet political vendetta of a kind now practiced with increasing frequency and effect." Horton goes on to add, "(T)his is about something else. It is not the content of Chemerinsky’s political and social views. It is the claim of some right-wing kooks to exercise a veto power over academic appointments, a claim to which Drake has very foolishly acquiesced. In doing this, Drake has fundamentally betrayed his duties to the two communities he serves—the community of students and scholars which constitute the university, and the broader society with which they interact and which they serve."

Personally speaking, if I were Erwin Chemerinsky and had the intestinal fortitude (read: guts), I'd tell Michael Drake and the rest of the UC-Irvine regents to go straight to hell and let them stew in their own juices. Chemerinsky is a class act who deserves much, much better that this.

The way I see it, since Michael Drake made his own mess, they should make him clean it up himself. And not with a Swiffer Wet-Jet and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.

No comments: