Annals of Academic Freedom

In Governing's September issue, I wrote about how the University of California is establishing a law school at its Irvine campus, over the objections of of some state policy makers. So far, the institution is off to a rough start.
by | September 19, 2007
 

In Governing's September issue, I wrote about how the University of California is establishing a law school at its Irvine campus, over the objections of some state policy makers. So far, the institution is off to a rough start.

As its founding dean, UC officials chose Erwin Chemerinsky, a noted liberal constitutional law professor at Duke who has represented Valerie Plame and a detainee at Guantanamo. Chemerinsky is one of those law guys who also turns up regularly to offer their opinions in the media. Even I've heard of him. On the day of his hire last month, in fact, he blasted then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' new death penalty regulations in the Los Angeles Times .

Pummeling Gonzales appeared to be a free shot by that time -- but not to UC officials. They reneged on their offer, saying that they knew Chemerinsky was liberal but didn't realize how controversial he was.

Their backpedaling, it turned out, was the most controversial thing of all. They were widely criticized for impinging on academic freedom, setting a bad tone for a new program meant to bring added prestige to the Irvine campus.

Hugh Hewitt, a Chapman University law professor and conservative commentator, told The Washington Post, "Even though I agree with him on only about one out of 100 issues, I believe he is one of the top legal minds in the United States. This is clearly a boneheaded move, and how do you resurrect a situation like this?"

UC went for the obvious resurrection technique -- offering Chereminsky the job again. So, everyone's happy, but one question is still left unanswered: Don't university officials think about vetting people before offering them such high-profile posts?

"It seems late in the day to notice that Erwin Chemerinsky is a prominent liberal," John Jeffries, dean of the University of Virginia Law School, told the LA Times. "That's been true for as long as I've known him. It's rather like discovering that Wilt Chamberlain was tall. How could you not know?"

Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee points out the one-way street aspect of academic freedom at UC. Despite the happy ending for Chemerinsky, UC liberals have no compunction about squelching a voice they don't like. A UC regent invited Lawrence Summers, the ousted Harvard president who suggested women are bad at science, to address the board at a private dinner, but Summers was disinvited after faculty members objected.

"I was appalled and stunned that someone like Summers would even be invited to speak to the regents," Professor Maureen Stanton, an organizer of the faculty protest, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

UC officials are not earning much of a reputation for sticking to their guns these days.

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