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UC Irvine law school dean
recalls hiring controversy

Erwin Chemerinsky says the episode, in which he was hired, fired and rehired, was the most difficult of his life. But it feels like ancient history now, he says.
By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 26, 2008
Erwin Chemerinsky, the constitutional law scholar hired, fired and rehired last year to be the inaugural law school dean at UC Irvine, on Thursday described the experience as "the most difficult of my life" but said the ordeal now feels like ancient history.

His turbulent recruiting as dean of California's first new public law school in decades has been overtaken by the warm reception he's had from the Southern California legal and business community, including some who opposed his selection because of his liberal credentials, he told a group of civic leaders at a Town Hall Los Angeles luncheon.

"I hope that once they get to know us they will see that we have a law school that has no ideology. We want a law school where all views are expressed," said Chemerinsky, who spent 20 years at the University of Southern California before his more recent stint at Duke University.

The scandal in which UC-Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake rescinded the offered deanship under pressure from conservative regents and donors generated so much publicity that the Donald Bren School of Law that will accept its first students next fall is the most famous higher educational newcomer in the country, Chemerinsky joked.

"Thankfully, it feels very much like ancient history now," he said of the weeks of controversy between his firing and Drake's renewed offer of the deanship. "That week when I was fired was the most difficult of my life."

On the stump for scholarship money for law students committed to public service and helping the underserved communities of immigrants and indigents, the new dean said the school had sufficient commitment from the university and private-sector supporters to fund tuition for the first year, when 60 students are to be admitted. Eventually, the law school hopes to have 200-student classes, he said.

But in the current economic climate, which has hit the vital real estate sector in Orange County particularly hard, fundraising is going to be a major challenge, Chemerinsky conceded.

"It's true of all educational institutions, and all nonprofits, that when the economy is booming, there are more people with money able to donate it," he said. "And when times are difficult, as they appear to be headed now, it's the opposite."