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Conservative (& libertarian) Bloggers defend Liberal Law Professor

Posted by GayPatriotWest at 7:46 pm - September 12, 2007.
Filed under: Academia,Blogging,Civil Discourse,Legal Issues

Welcome Instapundit Readers!!

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.

And it seems that Chemerinsky is cut from the same cloth as some of my liberal professors at U-VA. Leo notes that this liberal professor gave a student a 4.0 for a “Scalia-esque” final exam.



  1. […] Original post by GayPatriotWest […]

    Pingback by Politics: 2008 HQ » Blog Archive » Conservative (& libertarian) Bloggers defend Liberal Law Professor — September 12, 2007 @ 9:47 pm - September 12, 2007

  2. Such a man would not be likely to let his own political views prejudice his administrative responsibilities.

    I wonder if that’s why they ultimately rejected him? Because they wanted someone who would let his political views prejudice his adminstration?

    Comment by Steven Den Beste — September 12, 2007 @ 10:36 pm - September 12, 2007

  3. Good post, Dan. I agree.

    Comment by John — September 12, 2007 @ 10:57 pm - September 12, 2007

  4. His reputation of being a fair minded lefty perhaps meant he wasn’t going to make the school strictly left wing enough. Tolerance not being a defining characteristic of so much of the academy.

    Comment by v. Shiff — September 12, 2007 @ 11:15 pm - September 12, 2007

  5. UCI’s action surprised me. I’m quite conservative and live about ten miles from the University. Even though UCI is in Orange County, it has a leftist reputation. Firing Chemerinsky is just foolish. If Drake is pandering to conservatives here, he is doing it in the least effective way possible.

    I’d like to see some balance in the faculty at UCI, but I think this is a miserable way to start.

    Comment by Ken Hahn — September 12, 2007 @ 11:21 pm - September 12, 2007

  6. My gosh, if we start disqualifying liberal law school professors with controversial views from deanships, we’ll soon have an acute national shortage of law school deans. Some may think that would be okay. But count me among conservative lawyer-bloggers agreeing with you, Reynolds, and Hewitt.

    Comment by Beldar — September 13, 2007 @ 12:04 am - September 13, 2007

  7. As a proud class of 95 UVa Law alum, I fully agree with you. In looking back at my law school years, I’m amazed at how little politics mattered.

    Comment by Jim — September 13, 2007 @ 12:27 am - September 13, 2007

  8. UCI is in within their rights not to hire a liberal professor if they don’t want to – but Irvine needs to do their fricken homework,

    I NEVER agree with Erwin, but Irvine, not Erwin screwed up.

    If he sues, he’s got a could cause of action, I think. Sad but true.

    Comment by Mitzie — September 13, 2007 @ 2:49 am - September 13, 2007

  9. Chemerinsky’s book that I used as a supplement is what got me through my Con Law class, seeing as it was taught by the single worst professor I’ve had in law school.

    And you know, I might be a liberal, but were I told my exam was “Scalia-esque” I would take that as incredibly high praise. I might disagree with Scalia or lament some of his views, but his writing is positively brilliant.

    The other message I sort of took from this whole situation is that if one (as a liberal) thinks Chemerinsky, an eminent scholar, is going to be too controversial, one is not really willing to put those views to the test in a debate.

    Comment by Mike — September 13, 2007 @ 9:47 am - September 13, 2007

  10. Dan, while at Michigan-L, I had the opportunity to hear Chemerinsky debate Russell Kirk on the soundness of a federal policy supporting vouchers for private schools; 4 lectures over three days. EC, even then, seemed to be a guy who was drawn to the lights, mic and the attentions of the crowd. He’s not stage shy.

    There’s no doubt EC is a bright scholar and a gifted commentator with a keen sense for getting his soundbite into the broadcast, but that doesn’t mean he’d be a good Dean of a new L school. I’ve known 5 L school deans and the best ones are not animated by the attention EC seems to crave. The biz of any Dean is quiet leadership, raising money, playing on your connections to attract major speakers, and advancing the institution even at the expense of your own ego gratification. EC still strikes me as a man who would fail as Dean of new L school… or any major L school, for that matter. Attracting controversy is the LAST thing a UnivPrez wants from his Dean. I’m not sure this is a bad decision made for the wrong reasons… but I wouldn’t go as far as to say courageous either. Just smart.

    Comment by Michigan-Matt — September 13, 2007 @ 10:09 am - September 13, 2007

  11. A brand new law school, hoping to open in 2009, has handled the Chemerinsky appointment in a decidedly ham-handed way. However, I can see the the wisdom of not having a political lightning rod as the first dean of a new law school.

    From what I have read in the WSJ, it would appear that the Chemerinsky appointment drew serious heat from conservative benefactors. No one need act the coquette when it comes to the power of founding money.

    Somewhere an advisory panel gave the hiring go-ahead and now the school-in-the-making is spotlighted in the unflattering pose of frantic back-paddling. It is hard to guess which is more damaging: a political lightening rod or a Keystone Kop organizing group?

    Comment by Heliotrope — September 13, 2007 @ 10:28 am - September 13, 2007

  12. […] Gay Patriot has the story of UC Irvine reneging on its offer of law school deanship to liberal Erwin Chemerinsky because he was “too controversial.” Two of our favorites, libertarian Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit and conservative Hugh Hewitt, rose to the defense of Chermerinsky. […]

    Pingback by Pickerhead :: Pickings from the Webvine ::September 13, 2007 — September 13, 2007 @ 6:24 pm - September 13, 2007

  13. Hugh Hewitt is up to his fourth post in Chemerinsky’s favor. I think that makes it a drumbeat.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — September 14, 2007 @ 9:27 am - September 14, 2007

  14. Hewitt links Powerline getting in on the act. Who, in turn, links arch-anti-Leftist David Horowitz defending Chemerinsky.

    Hewitt, Powerline, David Horowitz, Instapundit, Volokh, Beldar, GP, others…. that’s a veritable avalanche of libertarian-conservative support for Chemerinsky. Noting it, because I know that 3 months from now, some sophomoric leftie will try to say “And look how they didn’t even defend Chemerinsky blah blah blah…”

    I also note that Chemerinsky, although a law professor at Duke, pointedly stood aloof from Duke’s “Group of 88”.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — September 14, 2007 @ 9:30 am - September 14, 2007

  15. Add Victor Davis Hanson to the list:
    His best line about the whole thing is this:

    Hire him back. Apologize. Avoid a law suit—and then put up with his occasional editorializing. We have too many law schools as it is, so a new one at Irvine does not need to offer instant proof of why we don’t need another.

    Comment by Leah — September 14, 2007 @ 12:18 pm - September 14, 2007

  16. […] Gay Patriot […]

    Pingback by Right Wing Nation › Let’s Play Guess Who’s Defending The Liberal — September 14, 2007 @ 1:20 pm - September 14, 2007

  17. Shameful. It sounds like most of the hiring process was behind closed doors and Drake shook hands on it before announcing that he was considering the man. Had he been up front and honest about the process, donors could have expressed their displeasure before he offered him the job.

    Comment by rightwingprof — September 14, 2007 @ 1:24 pm - September 14, 2007

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