L'affaire Chemerinsky: One to remember?
Two views from here
19 September 2007
Editors' Note: The controversy that erupted last week over UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake's decision to rescind a job offer he had made to the noted law professor Erwin Chemerinsky - to become the founding dean of Irvine's new law school - was given a rest, if not completely put to bed, by their rapprochement just days later. Chemerinsky will indeed assume the deanship at Irvine, and both the dean-designate and the embattled chancellor are offering reassurances of their mutual understanding and respect going forward.
Does that put paid to the story? Or do issues - of academic freedom, of the liberties and limitations that administrators who are also scholars must somehow balance - still remain? In this week's Berkeleyan, two articulate campus figures share their views. One of them is the dean of Boalt Hall, Berkeley's own law school, who figured in the short-lived controversy as a prominent (if rather lonely) defender of Drake's actions. The other, also a legal scholar, chairs the campus's Academic Senate Committee on Academic Freedom, and he still has concerns along those very lines . . . though he sees signs of hope for the future in the strength of the furor that arose so quickly just a week ago.
'These jobs are not for everyone'
I spoke with Chancellor Drake at several points during the weeks he was in discussions with Erwin Chemerinsky about the Irvine deanship, and often this past week. It is crystal-clear to me that this controversy was not about Erwin’s politics nor potential controversy over his appointment. (Chancellor Drake does not shrink from controversy, but he did sugar-coat his reasoning when talking with Erwin — a mistake.) This was about Chancellor Drake’s loss of confidence that Erwin fully appreciated a central truth about becoming a university official: One must subordinate a significant measure of autonomy in favor of the interests of the institution.
Deans, chancellors, and academic freedom
The central fact in the Chemerinsky/Drake controversy is simple: UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake withdrew an offer of the deanship to Professor Erwin Chemerinsky because Chemerinsky insisted on commenting on matters of public concern at the heart of his scholarship. Chemerinsky was, effectively, punished for doing precisely what every member of a university faculty should be encouraged to do. Drake’s action was the clearest possible case of a university official flouting basic values of academic freedom. The swiftness of the national consensus condemning the decision, among liberals and conservatives alike (including many law-school deans), gives measure to its error.