By Susan Gluss
Esteemed educator, litigator and legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky has been named dean of Berkeley Law. He is the founding dean of UC Irvine School of Law, a position he’s held for the past nine years. His five-year term at Berkeley begins on July 1.
While at Irvine, Chemerinsky also served as the Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law. He taught courses on constitutional analysis, appellate litigation, and free speech rights, among others.
In a statement announcing the appointment today, UC Berkeley Interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol Christ called Chemerinsky “an acclaimed researcher, gifted teacher and accomplished administrator.”
“I believe he will be a phenomenal leader for our law school, someone who will ensure that Berkeley Law remains not only a powerhouse of legal scholarship and training, but also a community built on mutual respect and inclusion,” Christ said.
The appointment culminates an open, national search that considered both internal and external candidates.
Law professor and search committee member Sonia Katyal called Chemerinsky a “living legend—a person who exemplifies the very best that the field of law has to offer: brilliant, warm-hearted, thoughtful, open-minded, and deeply engaged in the culture of public service.”
Chemerinsky will serve as Berkeley Law’s thirteenth dean, relieving Interim Dean Melissa Murray, and replacing Sujit Choudhry, who resigned in March 2016.
Chemerinsky, 64, said he was “thrilled and humbled” by this “amazing opportunity.”
“I care deeply about the public mission of the law school and the public service it provides through its clinical and pro bono programs,” he said. “My goal as dean is to maintain the school’s excellence—be it in intellectual property, social justice or business law—and look for every opportunity I can to enhance it.”
Chemerinsky has held full-time faculty positions at four law schools, including Duke and USC, earning three outstanding teacher awards along the way. He is one of the nation’s top experts in constitutional law, federal practice, and civil rights and civil liberties.
He is also a prolific writer. He’s the author of 10 books; his newest, “Free Speech on Campus” (with Howard Gillman), will be published this summer. His casebook, “Constitutional Law,” is one of the most widely read legal textbooks in the country.
Chemerinsky has written nearly 200 law review articles in the nation’s top journals. He’s argued appellate cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals. He holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a B.S. from Northwestern University.
Chemerinsky’s views are highly regarded. He’s a frequent commentator on national and local broadcast media. He writes a weekly column for the Orange County Register, monthly columns for the ABA Journal and the Daily Journal, and occasional op-eds in newspapers nationwide. In January 2017, National Jurist magazine again named him as the most influential person in legal education in the U.S.
During a visit to Berkeley in April, Chemerinsky shared a bit of the personal journey that shaped his perspective as an educator and leader. He was the first member of his family to attend college; his father worked in a home improvement store and his mother stayed at home. The experience sensitized him to the power of social class and taught him first-hand about the difficult transition faced by today’s first-generation professionals.
“It affects how much I care about making law school accessible for those who can’t afford it,” he said.
He combined a passion for accessibility and educational excellence with a fearless resolve in 2009 when he launched Irvine Law. To build a top-ranked yet still unaccredited school, he offered free tuition to the first entering class—for all three years. He recruited talented law professors, established clinical programs, and built a strong curriculum—with an emphasis on public service for the public good.
“It succeeded beyond what I could have ever imagined,” he said.
An engaged community
At Berkeley, which celebrated its Centennial in 2012, his first step will be to “listen and learn.” He plans to engage the community in all aspects of his leadership through frequent town halls, student get-togethers, faculty meetings, and more.
“I think one of the responsibilities of a dean is to create a warm and inclusive community, where all members feel welcome and can thrive,” Chemerinsky said. “I think Interim Dean Murray has done an outstanding job in the most difficult circumstances. I need to build on that.”
In light of the university’s financial challenges, he said fundraising would be a top priority—including a focus on revenue-generating programs. Bottom line: the goal is to maintain and build upon the legacy he now inherits.
“We must do all we can to serve our students and prepare them to practice law at the highest level of the profession,” he said. “Berkeley should aspire to be one of the top five law schools in the country, by any and every measure.”
Chemerinsky has four children and two grandchildren. His wife Catherine Fisk graduated from Berkeley Law in ’86. She teaches constitutional law, employment discrimination law, First Amendment law, and graduate legal studies at Irvine Law and is the co-director of its Center in Law, Society and Culture.