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Courtesy UC IrvineEvery year, UC Irvine hosts what itproudly calls the Chancellor's Distinguished Fellows Lecture Series. Faculty and administration officials nominate these "distinguished fellows" through a popular vote, with Chancellor Ralph Cicerone making the final selection. This year, one of the school's top nominees was Michael Moore, famed director of Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11.
But Moore's flacks flaked, failing to contact UCI for a full two months, leaving the university with no choice but to invite a trio of speakers that is actually more controversial than Moore—but for all the wrong reasons.
Speaker No. 1 is former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who pushed his country into Iraq despite polls showing that more than 90 percent of Spaniards opposed the war. Spaniards despise Aznar for blaming the horrific March 11 Madrid train bombings, which killed 191, on Basque separatists before it was confirmed that Islamic terrorists were behind the act. His attempt to divert attention from Spain's role in Iraq led directly to his party losing the elections three days after the bombings and Spain's withdrawal from President Bush's ever-shrinking Coalition of the Willing.
In selecting distinguished fellows to speak on campus, UCI generally tries to find people who have never appeared anywhere else in Orange County. But in May, Chapman University presented Aznar with its Global Citizen Medal. A black-tie dinner honoring Aznar on May 15 raised more than a million dollars for the university, but organizer/GOP operative Mark Chapin Johnson told The Orange County Register, "The main reason to do this is to show support for a major ally."
But as bad as Aznar is, UCI's speaker No. 2, Viet Dinh—a Fullerton High School graduate who has already spoken in Orange County numerous times—is worse. The 36-year-old Georgetown Law School professor remains a darling of conservatives for his bootstraps story: a Vietnamese refugee who graduated from Harvard Law School and became an assistant attorney general in 2001.
But Dinh's most high-profile accomplishment is as co-author of the USA Patriot Act, the largest expansion of unchecked federal powers in modern history. The Patriot Act allows the Bush administration to open student computer files and spy on the e-mails and library books read by graduate students. It also forces librarians to turn over their records without question, a provision vocally opposed by UCI's own librarians.
Speaker No. 3, John Yoo, is a former Justice Department lawyer who wrote the memos for the Bush administration justifying torture of terrorist suspects. In an Aug. 25 broadcast of NPR's Talk of the Nation, Yoo seemed upset that his audience might think that his memos authorized "the kind of photographs we saw in Abu Ghraib," as if the photographs themselves were more egregious than the behavior they depicted.
Yoo also noted that his memos had nothing to do with Abu Ghraib because, as far as he could tell, the abuses committed there didn't result in the collection of any actual intelligence. His memos, of course, only justified torture aimed at gaining intelligence. Then Yoo did what college professors teach their students never to do: spread the blame of their faulty scholarship rather than defend it.
"You know, first, let me say, you know, I can't claim sole authorship or I'm not claiming that I didn't write them, either," Yoo said. "I know that some of the opinions that were released by the [Justice] department and the White House have my name on them, so it's clear that I worked on them. But I don't want to say that, you know, I'm claiming sole authority on what these opinions mean or say."
While UCI apparently considers Yoo a "distinguished speaker," his own students aren't so sure. In fact, at UC Berkeley's most recent commencement ceremony, a quarter of the graduating class wore red armbands and demanded that Yoo apologize for being an apologist for torture. He didn't.
Michael Clark, UCI's associate executive vice chancellor, defended the school's selection of Aznar, Dinh and Yoo. "Every year, we try to find speakers with a range of opinions, and sometimes it tilts one way or the other," he said. "But over the years, we have come up with a really good balance of speakers."