Daniel A. Anderson / University Communications Chancellor Michael V. Drake and School of Law Founding Dean Erwin Chemerinsky engage UCI freshmen in a lively discussion of civil rights.

Chancellor, law dean lead freshman seminar

UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake and Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of UCI Law School, team up to teach freshmen about civil rights.

At a university with many faculty stars, one course stands out for boasting not one but two campus luminaries.

This quarter, Chancellor Michael Drake and Erwin Chemerinsky, a well-known constitutional lawyer and founding dean of UC Irvine’s new School of Law, are combining their teaching skills in a freshman seminar on the Supreme Court and the civil rights movement of the ’60s. It examines different modes of protest, political tactics used by activists of the era and the effectiveness of those tactics in transforming society.

The class is held weekly in Aldrich Hall. For a recent session, Drake arrived with CDs of music from the civil rights movement, a genre in which he takes a special interest. “I come bearing gifts,” he exclaimed. As the 13 students cheered, he added: “Gifts for me, work for you.”

Throughout the hourlong seminar, Drake and Chemerinsky moved seamlessly among discussion topics, integrating their own comments and questions while evoking thoughtful observations – and sometimes heated exchanges – from the students.

Both relate well to the freshmen. During a discussion of civil rights-era music, Chemerinsky asked whether any students had heard of Sam Cooke; only one said yes. “Think of him as a modern-day Usher,” Drake explained, referring to the contemporary singer/songwriter. The comment, followed by quiet laughter, established a clear connection with the students.

Chemerinsky is one of the nation’s pre-eminent high court scholars. An alumnus of Northwestern University and Harvard Law School, his primary areas of expertise are constitutional law, federal practice, civil rights and civil liberties, and appellate litigation. He has taught at DePaul University College of Law, University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law and, most recently, Duke Law School.

Drake received a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and a medical degree from UC San Francisco. He was a professor of ophthalmology and senior associate dean at the UCSF School of Medicine before becoming UC vice president for health affairs, overseeing education policy and research activities at 15 health sciences schools. He became UCI chancellor in 2005.

It’s clear both teachers and students are finding the class stimulating.

“Teaching the seminar with Chancellor Drake has been a wonderful experience,” said Chemerinsky. “He brings such tremendous knowledge and enthusiasm. The students are incredibly fortunate to have him as a teacher.”

“I look forward to class every week,” said Drake. “It’s terrific – and fun – to have a chance to interact with the students and discuss nuanced and sophisticated issues. They are insightful and courageous with their comments and their midterms were thoughtful and inspiring.”

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