UCI Rehires Fired Law School Dean

    After UC Irvine’s chancellor ignited a heated debate by withdrawing a contract that would have made a renowned liberal legal scholar dean of the campus’ nascent law school, both men are extending the olive branch as they ponder the consequences that their off-again, on-again relationship may have on the school’s future.

    On Sept. 11, UC Irvine Chancellor Michael V. Drake stirred a nationwide debate on academic freedom when he voided a contract with Duke University law professor Erwin Chemerinsky as the new law school’s dean. Chemerinsky, a distinguished law professor who was named by Legal Affairs magazine as one of America’s top 20 legal thinkers, said Drake told him the appointment was being withdrawn because he had proven to be “too politically controversial.”

    Drake said that he had lost faith in the law professor partly because of Chemerinsky’s recent opinion articles in the Los Angeles Times that criticized former U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales’ political platform, according to an Associated Press report.

    Chemerinsky responded in a Sept. 14 op-ed in the Times, claiming that his opinion articles on Gonzalez were written before he agreed to sign the contract, and that Drake had simply given in to conservative pressure.

    Drake denied the allegations, saying in an op-ed that his decision was “absolutely not based on Professor Chemerinsky’s place on the political spectrum, which is, in fact, quite similar to my own.”

    Since then, Drake has rehired Chemerinsky and publicly apologized for withdrawing the offer.

    “I have learned a very painful lesson this week,” he said at the emergency meeting of the UC system’s Academic Senate. “I made a series of difficult decisions without consulting senior faculty early enough or often enough.”

    However, Chemerinsky said he was optimistic that the pair’s differences would not adversely affect the law school’s future.

    “I am convinced that we worked through our disagreements and that we will together build a great institution,” he said.

    According to UC Irvine’s Director of Media Relations Cathy Lawhon, Drake decided to rehire Chemerinsky because they had “met in person, resolved their differences and clarified any misunderstandings.”

    Though his political viewpoints were called into question, Chemerinsky said he will “continue to express [his] views on issues related to the legal system” after accepting the position for a second time, and that he would continue to be mindful of his responsibilities as dean.

    While the controversy placed the Bren School of Law in a potentially hazardous public spotlight, Chemerinsky and Drake said they do not feel it has damaged the school’s reputation.

    “A key problem with a new school is getting it known, and we have the most publicized new law school in history,” Chemerinsky said. “We will hire terrific faculty and create a great program, and that will be our publicity.”

    Lawhon said she agreed with Chemerinsky.

    “Chancellor Drake and the rest of UCI are very excited to have such a high-profile, respected and popular dean coming in for our law school,” she said.

    Investigations into Drake’s decision are not complete, however, as the UC Irvine Academic Senate has instructed a committee to analyze and report on Drake’s decision by mid-December.

    Chemerinky said he envisions the school as an institution that will emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of law and experiential learning.

    “Medical students see patients and even treat them,” he said. “Too many law students graduate without ever having a client.”

    The school is expected to admit its first class in the fall of 2009.

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