Lawyers launch petition to rescind John Yoo’s endowed chair title

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UC Berkeley students, alumni and a group of lawyers in the Bay Area initiated an online petition last week to rescind UC Berkeley School of Law professor John Yoo’s recent faculty chair endowment.

Spearheaded by the Bay Area chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, the petition was launched after Yoo was announced as a newly endowed faculty chair along with four other law professors in June. Yoo has been in the spotlight of controversy ever since he co-authored a series of memorandums, dubbed the “Torture Memos,” during the administration of former president George W. Bush.

Students and anti-torture groups protested Yoo’s role in drafting the legal documents in 2002, which advised on the use of controversial interrogation techniques while he was deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel. The San Francisco chapter of national anti-war group World Can’t Wait led a demonstration in 2012 against his employment at UC Berkeley.

“We were appalled to find out that the law school decided to honor someone who provided legal cover for the criminal acts of the Bush administration,” said Carlos Villarreal, executive director of the Bay Area chapter of the lawyers’ guild. “We feel it is necessary to speak up for the victims of torture in Guantanamo and elsewhere.”

According to Susan Gluss, spokesperson for Berkeley Law, the selection of faculty chairs is made by a collaboration among current endowed chair holders, the dean and campus leadership, and it is based on seniority and current scholarship.

“Professor Yoo’s various academic awards are based on scholarship conducted while at the law school, not his work for the government,” Gluss said in an email.

Yoo could not be reached for comment.

Yoo, who has been a campus professor since 1993 and tenured since 1999, was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Department of Justice in 2010. After the decision, the former dean of the law school, Christopher Edley, said in a statement that dismissing Yoo from his professorship at UC Berkeley “creates dangers that ideological or political agendas may be advanced under the vague banner of ‘morality.’ ”

According to Villarreal, the local chapter of the lawyers’ guild has been involved with protesting Yoo in the past by holding meetings at the law school, working with activist groups and doing informational work with the national guild.

“We feel like this was done somewhat covertly,” Villarreal said. “People should know that not only has the university tenured this professor, but they’re choosing to honor him.”

The petition, which will be sent to Sujit Choudhry, the current dean of Berkeley Law, is requesting that the honor of endowed faculty chair be rescinded from Yoo. Villarreal said they are hoping to send the petition by all with 500 or more signatures, which are being collected through social media and email.

Contact Sarah Rockwood at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @srockwood44.