Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

UC-Irvine Hires, Then Fires, Chemerinsky as Inaugural Dean

Shocking news from Brian Leiter:

About a week ago, Erwin Chemerinsky, the well-known constitutional law scholar at Duke, signed a contract to be the inaugural Dean of the new law school at the University of California at Irvine. Yesterday, the Chancellor of the University of Cailfornia at Irvine flew to Durham and fired Chemerinsky, saying that he had not been aware of how Chemerinsky's political views would make him a target for criticism from conservatives.


Law School | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference UC-Irvine Hires, Then Fires, Chemerinsky as Inaugural Dean:

» from (v.2)
OKAY, THIS IS JUST WEIRD: Hiring and firing Erwin Chemerinsky in one week? First of all, who doesn't know about Erwin's politics? Certainly anybody who managed to hire him without knowing his political leanings would have to have been grossly... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 12, 2007 9:56:05 AM


Eugene Volok just posted an update at the Volokh Conspiracy that contrary to the original story that so many people jumped on, apparently the issue wasn’t that the regents or the donors objected to Erwin Chemerinsky but that when he was originally hired he was asked specifically to focus less on writing op ed pieces and more on developing legal education. You know the sort of thing that a dean at a law school is expected to do.

Chemerinsky apparently went back on the agreement by jumping into the death penalty case before he was even approved by the Regents and chancellor who offered the job, apparently without regard to the content of the op ed, saw this as a preview of things to come and rescinded the offer. If he couldn’t even control himself until he had the job for sure (which doesn’t happen until the Regents approve it), how could they expect him to start behaving when the job was secure?

Basically they knew he was a liberal law professor but didn’t care that he was a liberal. What they did care about was that he apparently didn’t realize that when you take on the additional responsibility of being a dean and serving as the public face of an institution rather than just a professor, you’re expected to carry yourself a certain way rather than freely jump into whatever cause strikes your fancy.

IMO this incident suggests that Erwin Chemerinsky may be a decent professor and a respected academic but that doesn’t mean he has the skills and temperament to serve as the leader of a law school.

Posted by: Thorley Winston | Sep 13, 2007 10:35:51 AM

As someone invested in Duke and its Law School, I had the occasion to write its former Dean complaining about Chemerinsky. I understand and appreciate academic freedom;however, Chemerinsky's polemic was not distinguished scholarship, but base politics. His opposition to Alito and Roberts was unprincipled and political.I heard his testimony on Roberts on NPR and was troubled to have Duke's name associated with it. To be sure he is entitled to his views, but to espouse them in the name of scholarship is wrong.
I agree that Irvine's treatment of him is shabby. However, I fully expect that the law school will be better served by a Dean linked to intellectual rigor and not political hatchet jobs.

Posted by: Jim Alexander | Sep 12, 2007 3:44:28 PM

You may be interested in reading my story today

Posted by: Marla Fisher | Sep 12, 2007 2:34:22 PM

As a UCI grad and Irvine resident, I'm guessing the Chancellor didn't know how thoroughly Chermininsky has placed himself in the public eye. It's not just that he's very, very liberal - it's that he's very very liberal every week on radio, in the newspapers and on TV.

I have to agree, it’s not just that he exposes liberal views (which is par for the course among law professors) or represents leftwing causes as an attorney but his own conduct in pursuing these causes which has opened him up to this sort of retaliation. His sponsoring of a petition opposing Judge Roberts’ appointment to the Supreme Court based on distortions of Roberts appellate record and smearing him by association for the clients he represented (which is ironic considering some of the cases that Chemerinsky has taken) was disgusting behavior. Moreover, I’m not sure that law professors should be sending a message to their students that when they practice law, it’s acceptable to go after attorneys based on who their clients were.

Posted by: Thorley Winston | Sep 12, 2007 1:57:07 PM

I listen to the man weekly on Hugh Hewitt. Like many, I don't agree with his politics nor his conclusions. I find no fault, however, with the his essential logic. In addition, they seem closely, albeit erroneously reasoned. UC Irvine should be beat with a wet noodle for not doing more of a check so that they knew who and what they were hiring. I wish he had already had a contract because the college ought to pay for such carelessness.

Posted by: JN | Sep 12, 2007 1:51:43 PM

The Professor was at the University of Southern California Law School for many years before Duke hired him away a couple of years ago. He wrote regularly in the local press and the California Lawyer (a private magazine, formerly owned by the State Bar of California, which is still distributed to all Cal Bar members). He was often on the local radio and TV doing legal commentary.

I never had him when I was at USC Law. I do recall that my collegues who did have his intro Constitutional Law course felt somewhat betrayed after he spent all semester telling them that all of their comments were valid, etc., etc., and then blasted them in the last class session as all philistines, just looking for money (I wasn't there, I am merely reporting my impressions of their impressions, I guess that makes this hearsay!).

That UCI would be surprised at his liberal leanings is somewhat surprising - it is kind of like discovering the Pope is a Roman Catholic.

Posted by: andrewdb | Sep 12, 2007 1:44:18 PM

As noted by Eric, So. California conservatives have, rhetorically, kicked Erwin Chemerinsky around for years to no noticeable career effect. Given the high-profile militancy of Muslim students and profs at UCI in recent years, though, I'm inclined to think it's the local jihadi lobby the Chancellor is looking to mollify, not conservatives. Despite a long history of noisy opposition to the War on Terrorism, especially the Patriot Act and Bush administration intelligence gathering policies, Erwin is - well - a Jew. Can't have that.

Posted by: Dick Eagleson | Sep 12, 2007 1:19:03 PM

This is so far out that it made Glenn Reynolds write the words, "I have to agree with Brian Leiter"!

Posted by: Ron Coleman | Sep 12, 2007 1:02:26 PM

While I'm not a fan of Chemerinsky's politics that's a pretty shabby way to treat him.


Posted by: Kevin | Sep 12, 2007 1:00:47 PM

Assuming that Chemerinsky isn't about to go to the pen for filching macaroons or something, the "something more" almost has to be that some big donor objected to him, in which case the university was stupid for not running him by everyone who had them by the short hairs in the first place.

Posted by: Emsworth | Sep 12, 2007 12:32:52 PM

No he wasn't, in fact he spoke out against Nifong pretty soon after arriving at Duke...

Posted by: Dr. Kenneth Noisewater | Sep 12, 2007 12:30:28 PM

One of the reasons Jesse Unruh gave for starting up a State University in Orange County was to get more liberals into the area.

Posted by: tyree | Sep 12, 2007 12:25:57 PM

He seems to have been fired because he was what a specific contributor did not want.

Posted by: S.cotus | Sep 12, 2007 12:14:46 PM

This is very odd. Has there been a lot of pressure on Irvine of late to get a little more diversity of opinion on their faculty or something? I'm suspicious of this whole affair.

Posted by: Steve | Sep 12, 2007 12:11:03 PM

"Since when did the UC system fire ANYONE for being too liberal?"

Uh yeah -- isn't that sort of like firing a basketball player because he's too tall?

Posted by: jblog | Sep 12, 2007 11:37:08 AM

I'm with Smaack. There has to be more to this story - nobody in the UC system gets fired for being too liberal. That's probably why they hired him in the first place.

And he isn't an unknown quantity in Southern California - he was a professor and a local news "expert opinion" guy for years. I wanna say he was with USC at the time, but I'm not sure.

Posted by: Eric | Sep 12, 2007 11:34:45 AM

All of the "Group of 88" were from the College of Arts and Sciences. No professors of Engineering or full-time professors of Law signed, including Chemerinsky. In fact, Chemerinsky was critical of prosecutor Nifong in this 2006 interview ( with K.C. Johnson, whose "Durham-in-Wonderland" blog has been all over the case since April 2006.

Some have faulted Chemerinsky for his reticence on this case (given his aggressive activism in so many other legal issues), but at the very least he did not join in _that_ folly

Posted by: Rich Rostrom | Sep 12, 2007 11:18:17 AM

My goodness, this is outrageous. I am not a law man and only know Chemerinsky from his appearances on Hugh Hewitt---which might give you an indication of what I think of his positions :) What an embarrassment to UC Irvine that they would handle this so poorly. I wish Erwin well.

Posted by: mcg | Sep 12, 2007 11:15:05 AM

Since when did the UC system fire ANYONE for being too liberal?

Posted by: Smaack | Sep 12, 2007 11:06:54 AM

I compeletely disagree with his politics, but he's a good guy. Honest and well-intentioned and very sharp. He was my debate instructor back in the summer of 1977; when I heard him give a talk at a public law school forum in L.A. years later, he was still signposting his arguments in outline form ("argument IA," etc.).

Posted by: srp | Sep 12, 2007 11:05:38 AM


According to D-i-W, definately not.>
The 69 permanent faculty signatories included only two professors in math, just one in the hard sciences, and zero in law. (It would have been difficult indeed for a law professor to have signed a statement deeming irrelevant "the results of the police investigation.")

Posted by: Unix-Jedi | Sep 12, 2007 10:50:06 AM

I'm definitely not a fan of Chemerinsky, but this is one of those rare occasions when I am sympathetic. That Chemerinsky is a well-known partisan ought to have been obvious, he'd published partisan oped pieces in the California Bar Journal for years among other even more obvious media appearances.

This is a huge stumble on the part of the UC. Shame on them.

Posted by: Robin Roberts | Sep 12, 2007 10:41:21 AM

Chemerinsky doesn't appear involved in the Concerned Faculty group that brought Duke such disrepute. (See:

See also the interview with Durham-in-Wonderland (

It would be a shame if the actions of a group of professors to which he did not belong sullied Chemerinsky's reputation.

Posted by: Shannon Love | Sep 12, 2007 10:33:04 AM

As a UCI grad and Irvine resident, I'm guessing the Chancellor didn't know how thoroughly Chermininsky has placed himself in the public eye. It's not just that he's very, very liberal - it's that he's very very liberal every week on radio, in the newspapers and on TV.

It was a mistake to hire him in the first place, and that doesn't speak well of the Chancellor's staff. When you're opening a new law school you don't want the Dean to be the story day in and day out.

Posted by: Dsinope | Sep 12, 2007 10:26:03 AM

Uhmmm, Chemerinsky wasn't by chance one of the infamous Group of 88 that embarrassed itself during the Duke lacrosse false rape scandal? That would seem the most likely explanation for the sudden turn around.

Posted by: Shannon Love | Sep 12, 2007 10:21:55 AM