John Yoo and 4 others named endowed law faculty chairs

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Five UC Berkeley law faculty members, including John Yoo, were announced as UC Berkeley School of Law endowed faculty chairs last week.

In addition to Yoo — who generated controversy after co-authoring legal documents dubbed the “Torture Memos” — Christopher Kutz, Calvin Morrill, Anne O’Connell and Paul Schwartz were recognized in a ceremony last month for their “contributions to legal education and scholarship,” according to a statement from Susan Gluss, a spokesperson for the law school.

Endowed faculty chairs are awarded to professors and deans who are considered distinguished scholars and educators.

“It’s a great honor to hold the oldest chair at the law school,” Yoo, who received the first chair established at Berkeley Law, said in an email.

Yoo has been a campus professor since 1993 and worked as deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel during the administration of former president George W. Bush.

In a speech at the ceremony, Yoo praised a previous holder of the chair, Paul Mishkin, for “recognizing that courts had to respond to society’s broader political demands.”

In December of 2008, Berkeley City Council voted 7-2 to urge the University of California to terminate his tenured faculty status if he were prosecuted and convicted of human rights violations.

UC Berkeley students have demanded his removal as professor on many occasions since his return to campus in 2009, including at protests at the 2012 Berkeley Law commencement ceremony.

Brad DeLong, a campus economics professor, criticized Yoo for writing in a paper that former president Bill Clinton had exceeded the bounds of his executive powers and then later writing in a 2003 memo that the treatment of enemy combatants was under Bush’s discretion.

“Professors are responsible, as Ernst Kantorowicz said, to their conscience and their God to say what they have come to believe after long and hard study,” DeLong said in an email. “But they are really not supposed to say whatever is politically convenient at that moment.”

Yoo advised those who think his writings are inconsistent to examine the actual papers when making such a determination.

Curt Wechsler, who edits a website to encourage Yoo’s employment termination, called his latest honor an “outrage.”

“The fact that Berkeley continues to provide a soapbox for him is really unacceptable,” Wechsler said.

Yoo said he intends to follow in the footsteps of the chair’s previous holders by maintaining a high level of research and scholarship.

Contact Anna Li at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @annajxli.