Monday, November 5, 2007

Questionable Hiring Practices by Duke?

Recently, national headlines were made when Duke Law Professor Erwin Chemerinsky was initially hired as the founding dean of UC Irvine's new law school, then fired, and then re-hired when the affair brought national scrutiny to the fledgling law school. According to the L.A. Times, Chemerinsky claimed UC Irvine Chancellor Michael V. Drake told him that the reason for his temporary firing was "pressure from conservatives over his outspoken liberal politics." Drake has denied the claim, and upon Chemerinsky's rehiring, the two issued a joint statement attributing the confusion to "miscommunication and misunderstanding," but declared that "all issues were resolved to our mutual satisfaction." Though the issue may be resolved, several among the faculty, according to the L.A. Times, are pushing for a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Drake over his handling of Chemerinksy's hiring.

Pepperdine Law Professor Douglas W. Kmiec wrote to the L.A. Times in defense of Chemerinsky, noting that Kmiec himself is a conservative who seldom agrees with Chemerinsky on "constitutional outcome." He asserts that Chemerinksy's politics should not matter, only his merit as "one of the finest constitutional scholars in the country."

In a situation that may have certain parallels to UC Irvine's Chemerinsky debacle, guest commentator Wheeler Frost reports in the Chronicle that impeccably qualified historian Mark Moyar, who applied for faculty appointment at Duke University, believes he was rejected based on his political affiliation. Reports Frost, "Moyar graduated first in the history department at Harvard; his revised senior thesis was published as a book and sold more copies than an average history professor ever sells." Given those credentials, what is most surprising is that he was not only rejected, but was denied an interview by Professor Alex Roland who provided no reasons for his refusal. The situation is undeniably peculiar, and if things are as they seem to both Moyar and Frost, it would seem to substantiate what Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson believe is an epidemic of powerful "extremist professors" seeking to "pack departments with more and more ideologically eccentric, intellectually mediocre allies."

Though there are many criteria for hiring professors, it would seem to go without saying that the primary criteria should undoubtedly be merit. Diversity of all kinds is often another desirable trait for an academic department. However if, as Moyar believes, Duke declined to even offer an interview to him based solely on his political affiliation, then it would appear that Duke rejected Moyar in spite of both his merit AND the diversity of thought that he would have provided to Duke's history department. If true, Moyar's rejection would raise a variety of questions about the fundamental ethics of the hiring process for the history department at Duke University.

Therefore, Duke Students for an Ethical Duke intends to explore the issue before rendering any judgments or taking any stance. We will then report back when we have a better understanding.


Gothzilla said...

I look forward to your follow-up comments but, alas, your original post just about explains it all.

elena said...

Excluding professors because of political affiliation not only hurts the candidate, it also hurts students. It limits the areas of study a conservative student can pursue for a Ph.D.

Earlier this year (May 31,2007), Professor Marvin Olasky, wrote of his nightmare a month before his final exam for his doctorate.

The title is "No Student is an Island." It's a pretty horrifying tale with a good ending.