David Bernstein on Summers, Chemerinsky, and Academic Freedom

By September 20, 2007

Professor David Bernstein of George Mason University School of Law (and a Volokh Conspiracy blogger) has a great article in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times about the contrast between the University of California’s handling of Erwin Chemerinsky (shameful but ultimately corrected) and Larry Summers (shameful and uncorrected). Adam covered the Summers controversy in some depth in a blog post yesterday and even linked to Bernstein’s article, but I wanted to highlight it here. Bernstein begins:

The saga of controversial liberal law professor Erwin Chemerinsky’s on-again, off-again deanship at the new UC Irvine law school was highly unusual in two ways. First, the pressure to enforce political orthodoxy at Chemerinsky’s expense came from the right, not the left, and second, academic freedom and 1st Amendment values won a resounding victory when Chemerinsky was ultimately rehired. A more typical example of how academic freedom remains in jeopardy across the country is the UC Board of Regents’ treatment of Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard University.

While the UC system did right by Chemerinsky in the end, the fact that Summers, the past president of Harvard University, has been uninvited from even speaking to the system’s Board of Regents (who are presumably less vulnerable to his allegedly dangerous and unorthodox views than students would be) indicates that the UC system has a long way to go when it comes to freedom of expression. After all, as Bernstein points out: “the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit that promotes civil liberties in higher education, has ranked 16 of the 19 California state colleges it measured ‘red’—the lowest rank—for freedom of expression.” While the Regents’ jaundiced attitude towards free expression may be consistent, that makes it no less unfortunate.

Schools: University of California, Irvine