A conservative Los Angeles County politician asked about two dozen people in an e-mail last month how to prevent the University of California, Irvine from hiring renowned liberal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky as its founding law school dean, a spokesman for the politician said Friday.
Making Chemerinsky the head of the law school “would be like appointing al-Qaida in charge of homeland security,” Michael Antonovich, a longtime Republican member of the county Board of Supervisors, said in a voicemail left with The Associated Press.
He was not available for further comment on why he was getting involved in the situation at a campus located outside his jurisdiction in Orange County.
Chemerinsky is an internationally respected scholar and commentator on constitutional law who’s now at Duke University in Durham, N.C.
Antonovich’s e-mail “expressed his dismay with the choice for the dean of the law school and suggested that this was the wrong decision and it should be changed,” said Tony Bell, a spokesman for the supervisor.
Antonovich, a local GOP stalwart, was first elected in 1980. He is a staunch conservative who has supported crackdowns on illegal immigrants, and voted against tax increases and HIV-prevention programs that distribute free syringes.
He clashed with Chemerinsky in the past when the professor supported the removal of a cross from the county seal.
The Antonovich e-mail was disclosed after UCI Chancellor Michael V. Drake withdrew an offer earlier this week to appoint Chemerinsky to the law school post.
Chemerinsky, a frequent legal commentator who represented exposed CIA agent Valerie Plame, has repeatedly said Drake told him he was out because he was “too politically controversial” due to his liberal activism.
The dismissal outraged UCI’s faculty members, who launched an online petition urging Drake to reconsider his decision. By Friday, more than 350 faculty, students and alumni had signed the petition. Some were calling for Drake’s resignation.
Faculty on the dean selection committee also warned that the opening date of the law school, set for 2009, might be delayed because of the time needed to find a new candidate.
“What’s happened here is so outrageous, it’s beyond anything that anybody could have imagined happening,” said Mark P. Petracca, chair of the political science department.
Petracca said professors were angry that Drake hasn’t given a full explanation for his decision, except to say at a faculty meeting Thursday that he spoke with 12 people about Chemerinsky before withdrawing the offer. He wouldn’t say who those people were, Petracca said.
“What information did the chancellor get? We don’t know that and the chancellor’s silence on that leaves the door open for people to speculate on Erwin’s character,” he said. “Politically, it would be the best thing for all parties involved … if (Drake) were to resign.”
Chemerinsky did not return calls on Friday. In an earlier interview, however, he said Drake met with him Tuesday and told him he was too controversial and that some members of the University of California system Board of Regents opposed the appointment.
Since then, several board members including California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles have said they were not consulted on Chemerinsky and didn’t oppose him.
In a statement on his Web site, Drake disputed Chemerinsky’s version of events and said the decision to withdraw his job offer was a management decision that has nothing to do with politics.
“It was not based on donor pressure or political pressure; it was based on a culmination of discussions over a period of time that convinced me we could not effectively partner to build a world-class law school at UC Irvine,” Drake wrote.
The chancellor did not return calls Friday seeking further comment.
An academic assembly meeting was expected next week, Petracca said, where professors might consider a vote of no-confidence against Drake and pass a resolution calling for his decision to be rescinded.
On the Net:
University of California, Irvine: http://www.uci.edu
Online letter to Drake: http://www.petitiononline.com/drake1/petition.html
– Associated Press
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