Erwin Chemerinsky hired, then fired

Erwin Chemerinsky, on whose reported candidacy for the proposed new UC Irvine Law School I commented here, has been hired and then fired before he even got to start the job, according to this report by Brian Leiter, a professor of Law at the University of Texas, later confirmed by the professor himself, speaking to the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

Professor Leiter comments:
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.

It is quite amazing that in a purportedly liberal state like California, the Chancellor of a major UC campus has apparently caved into political pressure from conservatives, even though, on the merits, Chemerinsky was a far more prominent scholar than the University had any reason to suppose it would be able to land for a brand new law school. 

It’s fair to say that the future does not look bright for the planned UC Irvine law school. Who will take the job now given this history?

It struck me earlier and I remain of the opinion that Prof. Chemerinsky fit right in with the obvious direction a “public interest” law school was aiming. It is, as I wrote, it was a purpose-driven law school. Despite the fact that the official state body charged with evaluating new higher education programs for California found it unnecessary, the Irvine campus of UC pressed ahead, and found the money to hire a dean.

I do not like to see people rejected from public jobs purely for political reasons. But I remain convinced that the new law school is a bad idea. I am not a lawyer, but I wonder if the good professor may not have a cause for legal action.

Hat tip: Clarice Feldman, Instapundit


Update: Hugh Hewitt, a friend and ideological foe of Chemerinsky, calls UCI’s behavior a disgrace.
This is an astonishing and disgraceful episode, which, if perpetrated against a conservative, would rightly lead to a massive outpouring of outrage directed at the university that had allowed such a purge to occur. 
I agree with him that UCI has behaved badly. Call it a disgrace or call it stupid. Chemerinsky has been wronged, and from my amateur’s perspective has a good case to bring in court, should he choose to do so.

But to suggest as Hugh does, that conservatives enjoy media protection unavailable to liberals is startlingly wrong. Just wait for the New York Times to get ahold of the story, followed by CBS and NBC News and the rest of the MSM. You will hear denunciations of the conservative media’s alleged power.

Although I do not admire Chemerinsky’s judgment in choosing clients and causes, I do not approve of the treatment he has received from UCI. It is in fact appalling, humiliating a man, breaching a contract, and damaging the law prospective law school. Perhaps it is not too late to pull the plug on this ill-conceived venture.

The worst of it is that based on this treatment of a lefty, the left wingers who dominate academia will be encouraged to behave badly toward those few conservatives who brave the hostile environment on most campuses.

Steve Bainbridge is on the same page as I am. Except that as a distinguished law school professor himself, he knows a lot more than I do.
Chemerinsky's a very liberal guy, with whose stated views I routinely disagree, but he's not out there on the radical fringe. Moreover, to fire someone because they're a target of political attacks sets the worst kind of precedent for all of us in legal education - on both sides of the aisle - who dare express political views.

To be sure, hiring and firing a Dean is different than hiring or firing a professor. As a school's chief administrator and fundraiser, the Dean must be able to work with people of all political persuasions. Given how important fundraising is in the modern job description of law school deans, an ability to work well with donors is essential. The new UC Irvine law school will be smack in the middle of Orange County, which is less of a conservative bastion than it once was, but since a new law school will have no alumni to tap for funds, the UC Irvine Dean will have to attract money from local boosters, who are still mostly GOP-leaning real estate barons. So Chemerinksy always struck me as an odd choice. But, shouldn't they have figured that out before signing him to a contract? As Chemerinsky told the Law Blog, his politics aren't exactly a secret:
Marla Jo Fisher of the Orange County Register provides more detail.

Chemerinsky said he picked Drake up in his car from the airport, and was told in the car the offer was being rescinded. The rest of the conversation took place in a hotel lobby near the airport.

"He said significant opposition had developed against me. He said he didn't realize how much conservatives would be out to get me," Chemerinsky said. "He told me he felt it would be a bloody fight at the Board of Regents, and, even if I was confirmed, the fight would do damage to the law school."
This raises the possibility that the contract was contingent upon approval by the Regents and perhaps on other factors as well. This may rule breach of contract as a basis for the l;awsuit. But again, I am no lawyer.
UCI Chancellor Drake did not respond to requests for interviews. 

He issued a statement this afternoon through the media relations office saying that he had "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."

"Professor Chemerinsky is a gifted academic and his credentials are outstanding," Drake said in the statement. "I respect him greatly. My decision is no reflection whatsoever on his qualifications, but I must have complete confidence that the founding dean and I can partner effectively in building our law school. As in all decisions, I must do what I believe is in the best interests of our university."
Garret Therlof and Henry Weinstein in the Los Angeles Times write:  

Chemerinsky said he was saddened by the decision. "It would have been an exciting opportunity to start a new law school. We live in strange times."

Chemerinsky said that Drake told him during a meeting at the Sheraton Hotel near the Raleigh-Durham airport that the decision "had been difficult for him."

He said that "concerns" had emerged from the UC regents, which would have had to approve the appointment, Chemerinsky said. The professor said Drake told him that he thought there would have been a "bloody battle" among the regents over the appointment.

The chancellor's office said Drake was meeting with the university's communications office and was not immediately available for comment.
I fully expect this story to hit the MSM, and for conservative bloggers to be unfairly blamed.