Friday, September 14, 2007

The Irvine Law School Fiasco, Part III

As predicted, there's now talk about delaying the opening of the Irvine Law School (and also new details are emerging about what transpired):

Officials said the turnaround on Chemerinsky could delay the opening of the law school -- scheduled for 2009 -- and so tarnish the institution that it would be difficult to assemble the scholars and staff needed to establish the school as one of the nation's best -- UCI's long-cherished goal....

[O]fficials leading the launch of the law school said the decision makes it likely the school will not be ready to accept its first class as scheduled in 2009.

In order to meet the target, plans called for a dean to be in place this fall and for six to eight senior faculty members to then be hired this academic year. The search for Chemerinsky took nine months before a formal agreement was reached, and search committee members said they would now probably start again from scratch.

"We had three other finalists, and one of them would have definitely done it a week ago," said psychology professor Elizabeth F. Loftus, a member of the committee. "If you asked them today, I don't know. I don't think the law school will be derailed, but who knows what's going to happen next?"

Although Drake has denied that he took action under pressure from conservatives, Loftus said Thursday that the chancellor told the committee during an emergency meeting Wednesday night that he was forced to make the decision by outside forces whom he did not name. A second member of the committee confirmed Loftus' account to The Times but asked to remain anonymous.

"I asked whether it was one or two voices or an avalanche, and the answer is that it was an avalanche," Loftus said. "But we are not supposed to capitulate to that in the world of academic freedom...."

Several members of the Board of Regents said Thursday they were puzzled by Drake's decision, adding that they believe Chemerinsky's appointment would not have been blocked by the 26-member body.

Gerald Parsky, former chairman of the Board of Regents, and Richard Blum, the current chairman, were contacted by Drake in late August before the UCI chancellor had reached a final decision about the hiring.

Blum was in the Middle East on Thursday and unavailable for comment, but Parsky said Drake briefed him about the search process in that phone call and told him he was leaning toward Chemerinsky. Drake "did not ask my opinion on Chemerinsky and I did not provide it," Parsky said.

"The regents support academic freedom and the right of the chancellor to decide on the hiring of a dean based on the academic needs and goals of his individual campus, and the regents do not interfere with these matters," Parsky said. "And I do not believe we did in this case at all...."

Regent John Moores said the chance that any regent knew about Chemerinsky's hiring as dean and sought to intervene was "as close to zero as anything can get."

Moores noted that people might speculate on what the Board of Regents would do in a certain situation. But he said that doesn't mean that any of the regents have actually weighed in. "It's awfully easy to hide behind the notion that the regents might not approve this," he said.

Regents Moores, Sherry L. Lansing and Judy Hopkinson, and Michael Brown, chairman of the UC system's Academic Senate and a non-voting member of the Board of Regents, all said they knew of no opposition that would arise when the salary came up for approval at their meeting next week....

In an interview, Drake said the law school's namesake and $20-million donor, Donald Bren, had no role in the decision. "He stayed away from the decision entirely," the chancellor said....

One fears Chancellor Drake may not be long for his own administrative post at this point.  In order to recruit a credible Dean candidate, the University will have to at least give the appearance of independence and being able to stand up to political pressure, and it is no longer clear the current Chancellor can do that.

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