Update: Here’s an online petition from the UCI community to Drake.
In what can only be described as an act of humiliating cowardice, UCI’s chancellor, Michael Drake, fired Erwin Chemerinsky, the head of UCI’s new law school, out of concern that Chemerinsky’s left-wing views would cause too much controversy. Drake had to fly across the country to give Chemerinsky the news, because Chemerinsky hadn’t started the job yet. He only signed the contract last week; nonetheless, he had already started assembling his choices for the board of advisors, including a former Bush appointee. Chemerinsky did not say something shockingly controversial, or announce some radical plan for the law school—it was simply feared that conservatives might raise a stink about him.
I read that at Atrios a little more than seven hours ago. In the intervening time, quite a bit has developed: the LA Times picked up and verified the story; there was a discussion of it on my department listserv; conservative bloggers Hugh Hewitt and Instapundit, to their great credit, condemned the firing; and a left-wing UCI blogger dismissed out of hand the possibility that he, or any graduate student, could make any difference on this or any matter. So there’s a lot to consider here.
Here’s my thing, though. Why is it that you never hear about a candidate being withdrawn (scratch that: an employee being fired) because of fears of left-wing criticism? There aren’t more right-wingers than left-wingers in this country—certainly not in California—so obviously the reason is that left-wing partisans by and large won’t mount an organized campaign of criticism and complaint over ideological issues. Why should that be?
I understand that many on the left see equanimity as a matter of liberal principle (and what principle might that be—not wanting to be a bother?), but it is past time to see that this is disparity is absolutely killing the American left. In 2000, there weren’t Democratic staffers in Florida to face off with the Republican ones pounding on the windows of the Registrar of Voters. Given what the last six years have been like, can you say there shouldn’t have been? Despite Alberto Gonzales resigning in disgrace, despite his own lame-duck status, George Bush is once again trying to appoint a clear partisan to be Attorney General. He wouldn’t do it if he didn’t think he’d get away with it. And the reason he gets away with it is that we don’t have the backbone to get exercised about it. The left used to march in the streets while the right wing used to be the “silent majority”; what the hell happened?
I’m not advocating that we protest whenever a conservative gets hired to an academic position; I’ve known a number of intelligent and professional center-right professors who would be good on any faculty, and I teach conservative thinkers who I respect. But at minimum we have to reject attempts to dislodge qualified employees because they hold left-wing views. (Think about what I just wrote; is it 1947?) So to answer Scott Kaufman’s post (linked above): yes, write a complaint. Write complaints to everyone involved. Tell everyone you know to write a complaint. Get UCI—or whomever—to realize that the outrage it provokes from, horror of horrors, hiring liberal employees is nothing compared to the outrage it provokes from firing them out of fear before they’ve even stepped in the door.
It’s not a fun way to spend a Wednesday night. It involves working yourself up to a lather you may not really feel, a lather this single issue maybe doesn’t deserve. But it has to be done. Conservatives are winning the outrage war, and they’re not going to back off so we have to step up.
I am absolutely serious about all of the above.
Chancellor Drake’s e-mail address is email@example.com.
p.s. — Sorry for the cliché title. Honestly, it’s just because every time I see “Erwin Chemerinsky” I think “Paddy Chayefsky.” I had to indulge that impulse or lose my mind.