... I'm not going to pretend to have penetrated in the last 24 hours the mystery of why UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake tore up the contract Tuesday that he offered Duke University law professor Erwin Chemerinsky a month ago to become the first dean of UCI's law school.With a mystery to be solved, the bad press for the nascent law school will rage on and on.
But make no mistake: There is a mystery to be solved. And the answer goes far, far beyond Drake's statement Wednesday that he has "come to the very difficult conclusion that Professor Chemerinsky is not the right fit for the dean's position at UC Irvine at this time."
Who got to Drake, who's been chancellor since mid-2005, and told him that Chemerinsky, a well-known constitutional scholar and acknowledged liberal commentator, isn't the guy for UCI?...
Did a deep-pocketed cadre of conservative donors put the heat on Drake to rescind the offer?
Or did the impetus for the Dump Chemerinsky movement originate with the UC system's Board of Regents, which would have to approve the contract?...
You may think I'm avoiding the obvious, but I'm not: Yes, I know conservative Orange County businessman Donald Bren has pledged $20 million to the new law school and will have his name on it....
Could be, but it's almost inconceivable to me that UCI would offer Chemerinsky -- or anyone -- the job without, if only as a courtesy, telling the man the school is named after....
And there is another mystery. The school had a huge interest in an amicable separation with Chemerinsky. Could those who are acting for the school have failed to perceive that there would be devastating bad press? The school has trumpeted its ambitions to become a top tier school. I have to assume they tried to avoid an ugly public breakup. Unless they are shockingly incompetent, there must have been an attempt to reach an agreement with Chemerinsky to create a public appearance that would flatter both him and the new law school. They could have papered over the discord with a nice statement that Chemerinsky wished UCI well but had come to appreciate the depth of family's attachment to Duke and that UCI regretfully accepted that decision and remains convinced that he would have made a wonderful dean. So why did the nastiness boil over where we could see it?
I mean, look at the original press report, based on Chemerinsky's version of the events:
In a showdown over academic freedom, a prominent legal scholar said Wednesday that the University of California, Irvine's chancellor had succumbed to conservative political pressure in rescinding his contract to head the university's new law school, a charge the chancellor vehemently denied.Chemerinsky came away from the experience ready to attack. Why? Is it possible that Drake wanted this? Notice it's not the "conservatives" -- whoever they are -- who are saying political things about Chemerinsky. It's Drake, making assertions about unnamed individuals who are interfering with Drake's preferences. I feel sure that Chemerinsky would not misquote Drake. If there were nothing more from Drake, I would suspect that he and Chemerinsky were working together for a more independent UCI law school.
Erwin Chemerinsky, a well-known liberal expert on constitutional law, said he had signed a contract Sept. 4, only to be told Tuesday by Chancellor Michael V. Drake that he was voiding their deal because Chemerinsky was too liberal and the university had underestimated "conservatives out to get me."
Later Wednesday, however, Drake said there had been no outside pressure and that he had decided to reject Chemerinsky, now of Duke University and formerly of the University of Southern California, because he felt the law professor's commentaries were "polarizing" and would not serve the interests of California's first new public law school in 40 years....He sounds quite pathetic.
Drake said he worried that the controversy had the potential to harm the university's reputation. "It was the most difficult decision of my career," he said in an emotional interview, his voice at times quivering.
Chemerinsky and Drake agreed the new dean's dismissal was motivated in part by an Aug. 16 opinion article in the Los Angeles Times, the same day the job offer was made. In it, Chemerinsky asserted that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was "about to adopt an unnecessary and mean-spirited regulation that will make it harder for those on death row to have their cases reviewed in federal court."Another political piece! The procedures leading up to the imposition of the death penalty are a quintessential legal issue. "What he said doesn't matter." Who believes that?
But Drake and Chemerinsky split sharply on what role the article played in the decision to fire the incoming dean and whether academic freedom was at stake.
"Shouldn't we as academics be able to stand up for people on death row?" Chemerinsky said.
Drake said "we had talked to him in June about writing op-ed pieces and that he would have to focus on things like legal education in this new role, and then here comes another political piece. It wasn't the subject, it was its existence. What he said doesn't matter."