Outcry over academic freedom at UC Irvine: yes, then no, to top legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky

The Washington Post reports in Scholars Decry Law School’s About-Face on New Dean:

Scholars across the political spectrum protested what they called an assault on academic freedom after the University of California at Irvine withdrew a job offer from a liberal professor who wrote an op-ed criticizing the Bush administration.

Faculty members were furious, and blogs and editorial pages hummed Thursday with news that constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, 54, would not become dean of the University of California‘s first new law school in 40 years.

A highly visible liberal law professor at Duke University, Chemerinsky has represented Valerie Plame and a detainee at Guantanamo Bay. He is a frequent guest on talk shows to represent a liberal point of view and has written op-eds for major newspapers, including The Washington Post, on school segregation, abortion and workers’ rights.

It’s notable that the Washington Post article omits one of Chemerinsky’s most interesting and potentially provocative legal cases. As Philip Weiss points out:

Chemerinsky, whom the LA Times called one of the country’s leading constitutional- law experts, had seemed a major “get” for the school, till it thought over his politics. Liberal. Outspoken.

I smell a rat. Lots of professors are liberal and outspoken. And actually Chemerinsky is a sober sort; he served on police investigation panels in L.A. I wonder whether UC-Irvine got cold feet after someone pointed out to them that Chemerinsky represented the Corrie family in its suit against Caterpillar, the company that made the armored bulldozer that crushed young Rachel Corrie in Gaza in ’03…

To date, however, there is no evidence that the issues are linked. In fact, Chemerinsky has found support from the most unlikely places, including David Horowitz in the notorious Frontpage magazine, who, after learning about Chemerinsky’s role in the Corrie case, modified his defense to say he still should have been hired, but not as dean. Still, he wrote:

The Professor’s role in the Rachel Corrie suit against Caterpillar was news to me, but would also explain the reason UCI rescinded its offer. Again, this is not a conservative versus liberal thing. Many true liberals found Corrie’s and the ISM’s campaign opposing Israel’s self defense against suicide attacks appalling. UCI has come under severe criticism from both conservatives and liberals for anti-Semitism among its Muslim students (one such student even held a workshop titled “Israel, the Fourth Reich”.) Having a Dean who represented someone sympathetic to the International Solidarity Movement and associated with Replacement Theology would only add to concerns about anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, former Dukakis campaign manager and Soulless: Ann Coulter and the Right-Wing Church of Hate author Susan Estrich severely criticized UC Irvine Chancellor Dr. Michael Drake, who hired and then fired Chemerinsky, precisely because of the controversies over anti-Israel activism at the school:

But Dr. Drake has a twisted view of academic freedom, one that allows Muslim students to engage in open anti-Semitism, to hold rallies on campus attacking Zionist control of the media, equating Jewish support for Israel with Hitler’s Nazis, even (according to campus Republicans) displacing previously scheduled Young Republicans meetings with rallies denouncing Israel’s right to exist. But there’s no room for a liberal, Jewish law professor who is routinely the object of bidding wars between top-rated law schools vying for his services.

Estrich’s terrible use of language aside: While some of the charges of anti-Semitism are of real concern and deserve special attention, it is also true that had he already been employed by UC Irvine, Chemerinsky’s representation of the Corries would surely have been included in the now oft-repeated litany of charges against the school for rampant anti-Semitism. It’s not clear that Estrich knew of his involvement before writing her column.
The LA Times blog has the best round up to date on the various sources of the campaign against Chemerinsky, and they seem to point to local GOPers concerned about his consistently outspoken liberal politics.

Yet as early as Aug. 29, Republican political consultant Matt Cunningham said he received a forwarded e-mail in which Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich asked fellow Republicans how Chemerinsky’s appointment could be stopped. [...]

Attorney Scott Baugh, chairman of the county GOP, said Chemerinsky shouldn’t have been picked in the first place.

“It’s not because he’s a liberal,” Baugh said. “It’s because he’s polarizing. You wouldn’t hire Jerry Falwell to be the dean of religious studies at Berkeley.”

The Post said further:

According to Chemerinsky, the UC-Irvine chancellor told him on Tuesday that he “knew I was liberal but didn’t know how controversial I would be.” The chancellor also said “some conservative opposition was developing,” and the University of California regents would have “a bloody fight” over approving him, Chemerinsky said.

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