Monday, September 17, 2007

The Thought Police Are Coming

I've been following the University of California Irvine Law School story, mostly with the mindset of "what does this mean for the school as a public relations problem?," as learning in a class I took in graduate school. For those of you not familiar with the story, here's a brief summary: UC Irvine plans on building a law school and hired Duke professor, Erwin Chemerinsky to by the inaugural dean. Chemerinsky has a track-record of being a great law scholar who had indended to hire a "a nationally prominent faculty that was also diverse." Many hailed his hiring as a major coup for the new school. And then, strangely, one week after Chemerinsky signed his contract, Chancellor Michael Drake rescinded the offer.

Chemerinsky's version of events is this: "He told me he was withdrawing the offer because I was too politically controversial, that I'd be a lightning rod for conservatives."

Drake's public statement is this: "I have 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," he said in a written statement that did not mention the professor's political views nor any resistance from others to his appointment.

So this began as a he said/he said case. Now, it appears that we should be listening to Chemerinsky's version. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports today:

Despite the chancellor's assertion that politics had played no role in his decision, details have emerged about efforts by local conservatives to derail Mr. Chemerinsky's appointment. Michael D. Antonovich, a Republican who is a Los Angeles County supervisor, sent an e-mail message last month to about two dozen friends and constituents asking how to stop the appointment, a spokesman for him confirmed on Saturday.

Putting the Duke professor in charge of the new law school "would be like appointing Al Qaeda in charge of homeland security," Mr. Antonovich said in a voice message left with the Associated Press.

His spokesman, Tony Bell, confirmed the accuracy of that quote. He said Mr. Antonovich did not know the chancellor and did not contact anyone at the university to try to sway their opinions. In his message to supporters, "he suggested this was a poor choice for dean of a public law school who is responsible for creating a diverse staff and curriculum," Mr. Bell said. "He would have been polarizing because of his left-wing ideology."

The Times reported that 20 prominent local Republicans had also organized to try to block the appointment, and had circulated the chancellor's cellphone number.

Of course, the truth will remain to be seen, ugly details aside.

But what this brings to mind for me, more than anything, is that politics are creeping more than ever into academic places, and here, in a law school particularly, that becomes very troublesome. As Goodling-gate has shown, the DoJ specifically hired lawyers who had been members of the conservative Federalist Society, or graduated from "affiliated institutions" like the Christian conservation Regent University Law School.

So now Republicans seem to want to prevent free thought in law schools. I wonder who Antonovich would have preferred in the post. A conservative activist judge? I really hate to see developments like this and it makes me wonder when the Bush Administration or the GOP will institute a Thought Police. Or just come out and admit that they're members of the Mussolini fan club.

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