Incompetence, Cowardice, or Willful Self-Destruction?

UC Irvine’s decision to rescind its offer to Erwin Chemerinsky (who, I should note, is a colleague and friend) is so outrageous and boneheaded that I can muster only three explanations:

1) Incompetence:
This one is obvious. Erwin’s views are well known. Any remotely competent administrator should have vetted any fears about his ideology before offering him the job.

2) Cowardice:
This one, too, is obvious. Maybe a big donor (rhymes with “wren”) or a potential big donor, or someone with political power, balked at Erwin’s politics and wanted him ditched on that basis, and UC caved. Wow, what a profile in courage. That should make all members of the UC community sleep well at night, knowing that leaders will give in to donor/political pressure.

3) Willful Self-Destruction:
This one is less obvious. Suppose you were a Regent, or some other powerful person in California, and you strongly opposed creating another publicly funded law school but knew that it was moving forward. What would you do? You might try to inflict maximum damage on the law school before it even started, in the hope that this would so harm the school’s prospects that it would never open. And I can’t think of a better, realistic way of sabotaging the new law school than this one. Yes, I can imagine better unrealistic ways, but in terms of things that could ever happen, this one is an amazing carom shot. In one fell swoop, UC Irvine has lost the best Dean candidate it’s going to find, made itself look incompetent and/or cowardly, and made it unlikely that anyone of merit will want to be a Dean or even a professor there (unless they change their minds and offer Erwin the Deanship after all). It’s hard to do all those things in single move, but UC Irvine managed to thread that needle. When something that self-destructive occurs, you have to wonder whether it was intentional (at least on the part of some). Remember that the California Postsecondary Education Commission voted against a UC Irvine law school, and the Regents voted without debate to reject that recommendation and move forward on the school. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me to find out that some of those Regents didn’t want the school to go forward but didn’t have the votes to block it. So instead they effectively blocked it this way.

Note, of course, that this last explanation doesn’t rule out one of the first two. Indeed, all three could be at work — incompetence on the part of those who should have vetted, sabotage on the part of those who didn’t want a law school, and cowardice on the part of those who caved in to the arguments of the saboteurs. A trifecta of outrageous behavior.

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