Academic Dirty Linen Revealed in California Law School Case

Higher education, one of the biggest industries in America, has gotten wealthy beyond the dreams of previous generations of academics. Tuition increases at more than double the rate of inflation for a decade, taxpayer funding of research, tuition loans and scholarship, and tax exempt donations by the wealthy have all added enormous sums.

Wrapped in mantle of virtue and knowledge, the actual business of extracting the annual hundreds of billions of dollars it devours remains in the shadows. But a recent event has made public a perfectly normal, yet mildly disturbing practice related to fundraising.


To paraphrase a campaign slogan of yore, it's not what's illegal that's the problem; it is what is normal.

The debacle of hiring-firing-then-re-hiring Erwin Chemerinsky as Dean of the planned new University of California Irvine Law School continues to reverberate. The controversial lawyer factory, officially declared unneeded, and in my mind a waste of scarce resources on behalf of the institutional ego of a state-funded enterprise, is now being forced to lift its skirts in response to a public records request from the Los Angeles Times.  Kudos to Tony Barboza, Henry Weinstein and Garrett Therolf for their enterprise.

Unsurprisingly, the way the controversy has been played in the press follows the usual left wing narrative of brave liberals threatened by troglodytes of the right, but beating back the forces of darkness. McCarthyism redux. And who can blame the libs from casting themselves as heroes?  Nevermind that UCI Chancellor Michael Drake is certainly no conservative, and that the major donor to the law school, Orange County philanthropist Donald Bren, adamantly denies anything to do with the decision, and is supported in this contention by Drake.

The closest thing to a smoking gun that was found by the LAT is in the lede:
UC Irvine gave Orange County billionaire Donald Bren the right to be consulted in the selection of a dean for its new law school in return for his $20-million donation, according to documents released to The Times on Thursday.

The eight-page gift agreement reveals the scope of what Bren received for his money, ranging from major matters such as selection of the dean to specific rules governing how prominently signs featuring his name were to be displayed on the campus.

Signs on law school buildings must read "Donald Bren School of Law" and be at least twice the size of the building name. Bren's must be the largest and most prominently displayed name on the building, according to the agreement.

Chancellor Michael Drake in September abruptly fired Erwin Chemerinsky as founding dean -- even before he announced his selection publicly -- only to offer him the job again five days later after a national outcry ensued.

Despite the agreement, Bren's foundation insisted Thursday that it had nothing to do with the Chemerinsky matter.
I have seen big time academic fundraising up close, and none of this surprises me in the least. People who hand over megabucks to universities, however public spirited they may be, have some desired outcome in mind. Unless they want to remain anonymous (for whatever reason), they can get rather specific about matters like institutional names and signage. And they generally have an idea of the type of people whom they want considered for founding leadership roles.

An occasional unrestricted large gift does come through from time to time. But these are mostly the stuff of decanal and presidential dreams. The average large donor knows what he or she wants, and is in a position to get many demands met. There are a lot of colleges and universities out there.

As for the promised consulting on selecting a Dean, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on what the meaning of "consulting" is. The Dean of the University of San Francisco Law School is quoted that he would never agree to such terms. Perhaps he is reading the term to imply veto power. But usually there is already such a strong meeting of the minds between donor and university over the vision of the post, that there is little possibility of any conflict. And if push comes to shove in public, the university will not allow a veto. The alignment of forces in academia is such that it would be suicidal for a school to do so. There is a large posse of protestors anxious to start screaming about McCarthyism.

Of course, there is a different narrative that could be constructed. An ambitious Chancellor sees a market niche for a left wing law school that would attract major donors from the extremely wealthy tort bar, where individual law firms have realized profits in the hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars.  By working to expand the realm of legal activism, making unprecedented innovative claims, the law school would in effect carry out R&D for the tort bar. Nobody knows where the next bonanza might lie in the realm of class action lawsuits. But somewhere, somehow, somebody is going to figure out a claim that can approach tobacco litigation or asbestos as a source of giant contingency fees.

But he can't really go public with this vision, because the school is already seen as unnecessary. It is all about "public interest" law, and protecting the downtrodden and being on the cutting edge of legal thinking.

The Chancellor needed a big name to lend prominence and to attract well-known faculty, and ultimately applicants. Professor Chemerinsky is much-admired for his intellect and collegiality, and already is a media celebrity among academicians. But he also has quite track record of taking left wing positions that have been laughed out of court.  As second thoughts about letting the cat out of the bag accumulate, as reactions come in, the Chancellor reverses himself, only to run into a firestorm. After which he reverses his own decision.

But even though the evidence supports this narrative better than the right wing troglodyte fantasy, the mass media is utterly uninterested in paying any attention. It simply does not fit the template, even though it does fit the evidence on record.

Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.
Higher education, one of the biggest industries in America, has gotten wealthy beyond the dreams of previous generations of academics. Tuition increases at more than double the rate of inflation for a decade, taxpayer funding of research, tuition loans and scholarship, and tax exempt donations by the wealthy have all added enormous sums.

Wrapped in mantle of virtue and knowledge, the actual business of extracting the annual hundreds of billions of dollars it devours remains in the shadows. But a recent event has made public a perfectly normal, yet mildly disturbing practice related to fundraising.


To paraphrase a campaign slogan of yore, it's not what's illegal that's the problem; it is what is normal.

The debacle of hiring-firing-then-re-hiring Erwin Chemerinsky as Dean of the planned new University of California Irvine Law School continues to reverberate. The controversial lawyer factory, officially declared unneeded, and in my mind a waste of scarce resources on behalf of the institutional ego of a state-funded enterprise, is now being forced to lift its skirts in response to a public records request from the Los Angeles Times.  Kudos to Tony Barboza, Henry Weinstein and Garrett Therolf for their enterprise.

Unsurprisingly, the way the controversy has been played in the press follows the usual left wing narrative of brave liberals threatened by troglodytes of the right, but beating back the forces of darkness. McCarthyism redux. And who can blame the libs from casting themselves as heroes?  Nevermind that UCI Chancellor Michael Drake is certainly no conservative, and that the major donor to the law school, Orange County philanthropist Donald Bren, adamantly denies anything to do with the decision, and is supported in this contention by Drake.

The closest thing to a smoking gun that was found by the LAT is in the lede:
UC Irvine gave Orange County billionaire Donald Bren the right to be consulted in the selection of a dean for its new law school in return for his $20-million donation, according to documents released to The Times on Thursday.

The eight-page gift agreement reveals the scope of what Bren received for his money, ranging from major matters such as selection of the dean to specific rules governing how prominently signs featuring his name were to be displayed on the campus.

Signs on law school buildings must read "Donald Bren School of Law" and be at least twice the size of the building name. Bren's must be the largest and most prominently displayed name on the building, according to the agreement.

Chancellor Michael Drake in September abruptly fired Erwin Chemerinsky as founding dean -- even before he announced his selection publicly -- only to offer him the job again five days later after a national outcry ensued.

Despite the agreement, Bren's foundation insisted Thursday that it had nothing to do with the Chemerinsky matter.
I have seen big time academic fundraising up close, and none of this surprises me in the least. People who hand over megabucks to universities, however public spirited they may be, have some desired outcome in mind. Unless they want to remain anonymous (for whatever reason), they can get rather specific about matters like institutional names and signage. And they generally have an idea of the type of people whom they want considered for founding leadership roles.

An occasional unrestricted large gift does come through from time to time. But these are mostly the stuff of decanal and presidential dreams. The average large donor knows what he or she wants, and is in a position to get many demands met. There are a lot of colleges and universities out there.

As for the promised consulting on selecting a Dean, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on what the meaning of "consulting" is. The Dean of the University of San Francisco Law School is quoted that he would never agree to such terms. Perhaps he is reading the term to imply veto power. But usually there is already such a strong meeting of the minds between donor and university over the vision of the post, that there is little possibility of any conflict. And if push comes to shove in public, the university will not allow a veto. The alignment of forces in academia is such that it would be suicidal for a school to do so. There is a large posse of protestors anxious to start screaming about McCarthyism.

Of course, there is a different narrative that could be constructed. An ambitious Chancellor sees a market niche for a left wing law school that would attract major donors from the extremely wealthy tort bar, where individual law firms have realized profits in the hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars.  By working to expand the realm of legal activism, making unprecedented innovative claims, the law school would in effect carry out R&D for the tort bar. Nobody knows where the next bonanza might lie in the realm of class action lawsuits. But somewhere, somehow, somebody is going to figure out a claim that can approach tobacco litigation or asbestos as a source of giant contingency fees.

But he can't really go public with this vision, because the school is already seen as unnecessary. It is all about "public interest" law, and protecting the downtrodden and being on the cutting edge of legal thinking.

The Chancellor needed a big name to lend prominence and to attract well-known faculty, and ultimately applicants. Professor Chemerinsky is much-admired for his intellect and collegiality, and already is a media celebrity among academicians. But he also has quite track record of taking left wing positions that have been laughed out of court.  As second thoughts about letting the cat out of the bag accumulate, as reactions come in, the Chancellor reverses himself, only to run into a firestorm. After which he reverses his own decision.

But even though the evidence supports this narrative better than the right wing troglodyte fantasy, the mass media is utterly uninterested in paying any attention. It simply does not fit the template, even though it does fit the evidence on record.

Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.