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Several things struck me today when I read about the decision of the University of California at Irvine (UCI) to rescind its offer of the deanship of its new law school to Erwin Chemerinsky, one of the nation’s top liberal constitutional law scholars. The school deemed the outspoken professor “politically controversial.” Irvine Chancellor Michael V. Drake said “Chemerinsky’s political views would make him a target for criticism from conservatives.”
It was not just that in its article on the rescission that the LA Times identified him as “liberal.” When a professor is outspoken, mainstream newspapers tend only to identify his political/philosophical leanings if he is right of center.
But, what really struck me, impressed me indeed, was that a number of bloggers who themselves are right of center were quick to denounce the decision. Glenn Reynolds (the first to inform me of the decision) found the hiring and firing within one week “just weird,” noting the Chemerinsky was a “a nice, fair guy regardless of his politics.” Hugh Hewitt, more conservative than Glenn, labeled the decision UCI’s Disgrace. Hugh wrote:
It had selected my friend and regular radio guest Duke University Law School Professor Erwin Chemerinsky as the school’snew dean. Erwin is a man of the left, of course, but a remarkably distinguished and accomplished scholar who enjoys the esteem of professors, jurists and practitioners across the ideological spectrum.
Seems a liberal law professor who counts among his friends one of the nation’s most outspoken conservative bloggers would surely respect intellectual differences in a new law school. Such a man would not be likely to let his own political views prejudice his administrative responsibilities.
While I knew sometime in law school that I would likely never practice law, I completed my legal education, in large measure because I enjoyed the intellectual atmosphere at the University of Virginia (U-VA). One of my favorite professors was among the most left-wing. As I wrote in previous post:
In my last semester in law school, I chose a course with my second favorite law professor (one of the most liberal members of the U-VA Law faculty) over one (which met at the same hour) with my favorite professor (a conservative) because I thought I could learn more from teacher with whom I frequently disagreed.
That professor, while offering a challenging course, showed great respect to students who offered conservative viewpoints in class. U-VA was one of the few law schools where liberal and conservative students regularly conversed and even attended the events of each other’s organizations. It was indeed a most civil environment.
It would seem that a liberal law professor of Mr. Chemerinsky’s caliber, respected by his “ideological adversaries” might be able to create just such an environment at the new law school being created at the University of California at Irvine. Indeed, acknowledging that he’s a “liberal law professor,” Chemerinsky said, “My hope was that I’d address it [concern about his views] by making the law school open to all viewpoints..”
It’s unfortunate the school thought his viewpoints would get in the way of his intellectual leadership. And it says a lot about my favorite bloggers that they are standing up for a guy with whom they are often at odds on matters of politics and legal interpretation.
UPDATE: Just caught John Leo’s comments on the matter. He sees this as a “test case for conservatives who support free speech and argue vehemently against political tests for faculty and administration appointments.” He asks whether “these principles apply only to conservatives, or do they protect liberals as well” (Via Instapundit). Let us hope that conservatives who decry the bias against our philosophical allies on campuses stand up for a liberal who faces discrimination because of his ideas.
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