LOS ANGELES � The University of California, Irvine (UCI) has abruptly withdrawn an offer made to Duke Law School Professor Erwin Chemerinsky to become the first dean of its planned Donald Bren School of Law because he turned out to be “too politically controversial,” according to Chemerinsky.

On Tuesday, UCI Chancellor Michael Drake withdrew an offer that had been made to Chemerinsky on Aug. 16.

In an emailed statement, Drake confirmed that he had rescinded his offer to Chemerinsky for the dean post. “I have come to the very difficult conclusion that Professor Chemerinsky is not the right fit for the dean’s position at UC Irvine at this time,” he said. “Professor Chemerinsky is a gifted academic and his credentials are outstanding. I respect him greatly. My decision is no reflection whatsoever on his qualifications, but I must have complete confidence that the founding dean and I can partner effectively in building our law school. As in all decisions, I must do what I believe is in the best interests of our university.”

“He thought it would be a bloody fight within the Board of Regents that, if I got confirmed, would damage the law school,” Chemerinsky said. “Some of the opposition was from conservatives on the Board of Regents. Some of it was from the Orange County community.”

Andy Policano, chairman of the law school’s dean search committee and dean of the Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine, and Michael Gottfredson, executive vice chancellor and provost at UC Irvine, did not return calls.

Chemerinsky said he had signed a contract the day after Labor Day.

Last week, he said, Drake called him to discuss growing conservative opposition to Chemerinsky being named dean. At that time, Chemerinsky said, “I had no sense the opposition was sufficient that this wasn’t going to happen.” Drake later told him he “had proven to be too politically controversial,” Chemerinsky said.

The 26-member UC Board of Regents was scheduled to vote on the appointment at its regular meeting on Sept. 19 and 20. Trey Davis, director of special projects at the UC Board of Regents, said the governor appoints most of the board’s members.

“The board has roughly the same number of appointees from Democratic governors and Republican governors,” he said. He declined to comment further, referring other questions to UC Irvine.

Chemerinsky had already recruited 10 members of a 12-person advisory board for the new law school, which is scheduled to open in 2009. Those members were: Viet Dinh, a law professor at Georgetown University; U.S. District Judge Andrew Guildford for the Central District of California in Santa Ana; Preeta Bansal, a partner at New York’s Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; Carter G. Phillips, a partner in the Washington office of Sidley Austin; Gary Singer, a partner in the Newport Beach, Calif., office of O’Melveny & Myers who served on the dean search committee; Thomas Malcolm, a partner in the Irvine office of Jones Day; Deanell Reece Tacha, chief judge of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; John Jeffries Jr., dean of the University of Virginia School of Law; and Christopher Edley Jr., dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law; and Judge Harry Edwards for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

“Most of them have written back to me expressing surprise and dismay,” Chemerinsky said.

Phillips said he was disappointed in the school’s decision.

“He’s a great lawyer and a brilliant legal thinker and seemed as though he was enthusiastic about taking on what is a pretty difficult task,” Phillips said of Chemerinsky. “As far as what went into their decision making, they’ve got to choose what they think is best for the law school in the long run.”