Monday, September 17, 2007

The University of California Irvine Debacle

The University of California Irvine has wanted to establish a state-run law school at their campus for a number of years. But they had run into various red and yellow lights but had finally broken through all of the barriers and were sprinting toward opening the law school when they fell afoul this most recent difficulty involving their choice for a dean.

The University of California Irvine had chosen Erwin Chemerinsky to be their new dean. Chemerinsky is one of the best-known legal scholars in the United States today. He is also probably one of the most liberal legal scholars in the United States today. His ideology is decidedly left wing. On the other hand though, Chemerinsky is eminently qualified for the job. He is a brilliant man. He is extremely nice, extremely personable, very dedicated, servant-like, friendly, and accessible. He is exactly the sort of person who is likely to raise millions of dollars for the university and to be able to attract and hold intelligent faculty and students. But after offering him the job and obtaining a signed contract on September 4th, the chancellor of the University of California Irvine withdrew the job offer on September 5th. The chancellor has indicated that he believes Chemerinsky’s views are “polarizing” and would not serve the best interests of the law school at Irvine. While he denies being concerned about donations, it is undoubtedly the case that the chancellor is worried that conservative and libertarian philanthropists in Orange County will not continue to support the school (which they have been doing with vast sums of money) if a liberal dean like Chemerinsky were chosen. What’s odd is that the University of California Irvine should have realized that long before they made Chemerinsky an offer. If that’s what they were worried about, they should have directed their job search differently to begin with. But then I suspect that the real problem for them is not that they don’t want a liberal dean, but rather that they didn’t want the appearance of having a liberal dean.

The vast majority of modern American law schools produce lawyers who in one way or another accept the worldviews of radical liberalism or post-modernism. Naturally, strong-willed students can resist and maintain their own opinions, but the schools educate people in a transformative way that tends to make them into the kind of people who believe what liberals believe even if they’re determined to fight against it. State schools are, of course, often the worst about this since they have no guiding worldview or ideology to prevent them from drifting into the dominant liberalism and post-modernism of our age.

I have no doubt that even if the law school does not obtain Chemerinsky as their dean, they will probably almost certainly pick a dean who believes most of the same things about the law and about the world. If the conservative donors of Orange County believe in standard American legal education, they might as well go for Chemerinsky because he is eminently qualified for the job and a wonderful person. They are not likely to get anybody who is truly more conservative except as a matter of superficial views on individual issues. If the donors of Orange County really are opposed to creating lawyers in the mold of Erwin Chemerinsky and other left-wing activists, what they need to do is give money to schools like Trinity Law School that have a Statement of Faith and a worldview that genuinely supports a moral, conservative, freedom-loving view of law, government, and public policy. It would be far more effective for them to build up Trinity to be a first class ABA school or to try to influence some of the other existing law schools in Orange County than to think that they can have a conservative, state-owned and state-operated law school at what is already one of the more liberal, post-modern universities in the United States.

On another level, what the university did was really wrong. When they had already selected Chemerinsky and agreed to give him a contract, they should have been willing to abide by the logical and predictable results of what they had been planning to do for some period of time. It is unbelievable to think that they would not know Chemerinsky’s record, prominence, and stand on the issues. He is one of the few liberal scholars in the United States identifiable to many lay people. In addition, because the University of California is a state run school, they don’t really have any business discriminating based on Chemerinsky’s political views. In every measurable way that the California government would allow the university to evaluate Chemerinsky, he is an ideal choice. In the end, the University of California Irvine should have kept Chemerinsky for their law school, and the conservative donors of Orange County should have given their money to a different kind of institution altogether anyway.

UPDATE: It appears UCI is going to rehire Chemerinski.

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