Chancellor’s Choice of Fellows Draws Criticism

Chancellor Ralph Cicerone’s choice to invite Viet Dinh, author of the Patriot Act, and UC Berkeley law professor, John Yoo to speak in the Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Lecture Series has provoked an outraged response from faculty and students.
Dinh, former U.S. assistant attorney general and current professor of law at Georgetown University, delivered the first lecture in the series at the Beckman Center on Jan. 11 in a lecture entitled, ‘Life After 9/11: Issues Affecting the Courts and the Nation.’
However, most of the controversy is directed at the selection of John Yoo as a distinguished fellow. Yoo, co-author of the so-called ‘torture memo’ legal opinions cited by the Bush administration in support of its terrorist detention and interrogation policies, will lecture at UCI on Feb. 7 at the University Club.
The primary focus of Dinh’s lecture was on justifying the need for the Patriot Act and explaining the logic behind it. He described a post-Sept. 11 world in which military force is no longer projected solely by the ‘international community of sovereign states’ but also by political factions, religious groups and even individuals. In such a world, Dinh argued, legislation like the Patriot Act is not only advisable but essential to the safety and survival of even the world’s largest superpower.
The Patriot Act ‘was the right response for Congress at the right time,’ Dinh said. ‘Give law enforcement and intelligence the tools they need in order to secure us for the short term and hopefully for the long term.’
Dinh does not envision a world in which the Patriot Act is no longer necessary; nor does he rule out the possibility of one.
‘If and when it’s no longer needed or Congress revisits the issue, of course the Congress may wish to repeal or amend or repudiate the Patriot Act. I frankly have no idea,’ Dinh said.
Dinh devoted half of the available time to his lecture and half to an extended Q-and-A segment in which he deftly fielded questions regarding the Patriot Act and U.S. terrorist detention policies. He politely declined to answer questions regarding the ‘war on terror’ and alleged torture.
Yoo, however, was met with more criticism from faculty and students upset by the speaker’s political views.
‘What Professor Yoo’s memo advised was the breaking of international law,’ said David Smith, professor of sociology at UCI.
A petition protesting Yoo’s scheduled appearance and demanding the revocation of his Distinguished Fellow designation was posted on the Internet on Jan. 12. As of Jan. 14, 239 students and faculty had signed the petition. The majority of signatures on the petition are those of students.
Mark Levine, assistant professor of history at UCI and author of the petition, explained why he felt it necessary to start it.
‘There are lots of us who are extremely upset by this,’ he said. ‘[Yoo] has led the effort to justify war crimes and circumvent international and American law.’
The petition alleges Yoo’s involvement in the Bush administration’s effort to ‘set aside international and American laws and the regulations of the U.S. Army.’
‘I think at the very least we need an explanation of how he was selected,’ Levine said. ‘I don’t think Yoo deserves a reward under any circumstances. Opposing him is an act of patriotism.’
Faculty members cited many reasons why Yoo should be denied the honorific of Distinguished Fellow.
‘I’ve been at UCI for 20 years, and I’ve always been very proud to be here,’ said Steven Topik, professor of history. ‘But I’m very disappointed with this choice of so-called ‘distinguished speakers.’ Where are the strong ethical standards, the standards that exceed legal requirements?’
Cecilia Lynch, associate professor of political science at UCI, explained her disagreement at Yoo’s invitation.
‘I think that usually, when we invite someone to speak in a lecture series, it should be someone who has made a positive contribution,’ Lynch said. ‘I care about UC Irvine. I care about the kinds of contributions we make and [Yoo’s] main contribution has been to twist the definition of torture.’
Smith contends that their objective is not to deny Yoo’s right to free speech.
‘We don’t want to squelch free speech, but [the Distinguished Fellow designation] is an honorific,’ Smith said. ‘The issue here is, does this bring the kind of attention to the university that we want to bring?’
Cicerone recently received a copy of Levine’s petition and was unable to comment on it by press time.
He defended the lecture series in general terms.
‘We don’t put on any political test that I’m aware of, of any kind, when we select the Distinguished Fellows lecturers,’ Cicerone said.
Cicerone noted that the past 40 to 50 distinguished fellows have never been met with excessive controversy.
‘Even though the lecturer may be a [distinguished] fellow, he may bring controversial subjects up in his lecture and create controversy in that way,’ Cicerone said. ‘It’s our job at a university to expose each other not only to ideas but to political strategies and to people who have political impact.’
Cicerone also explained that the 2004-2005 series’ focus on legal issues was intentional.
‘We wanted to have some emphasis this year on legal matters,’ Cicerone said. ‘We’re trying to expose the campus to activities that go with distinguished law schools.’
Levine’s petition suggests a debate with Yoo as a possible solution.
‘I think he should come and debate, if he has any guts,’ Levine said.