Chapman professor who spoke at Jan. 6 pro-Trump rally retires

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Chapman University and John Eastman, a professor and former dean of the law school, have agreed that Eastman will resign, effective immediately.

The announcement came one week after Chapman, the Henry Salvatori Professor of Law and Community Service, spoke at the Jan. 6 “Save America” rally in Washington, D.C. — and after students and colleagues accused him of helping incite the riot at the Capitol that followed.

At the rally, Eastman appeared onstage next to Rudy Giuliani, saying, “We know there was fraud” and “dead people voted” in the 2020 presidential election. Voting machines contained a “secret folder” of ballots, challenging the “very essence of our republican form of government,” he said.

Eastman asked Vice President Mike Pence to delay that day’s Electoral College certification vote. Giuliani called for “trial by combat,” which he has since said was a reference to the “documentary” Game of Thrones. The rest, as they say, is now history.

Eastman’s fellow professors at Chapman have previously spoken out against his debunked legal theory that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris may not be eligible to serve in that role as the daughter of immigrants. Chapman faculty members also objected to Eastman’s ignored request that the U.S. Supreme Court nullify millions of votes in the recent election.

But in a letter to the Los Angeles Times, 169 professors and three members of Chapman’s Board of Trustees said his involvement in the rally represented a new low requiring urgent action on the university’s part.

“Participation in a riot that incited violence against the U.S. government and the death of a police officer puts matters into a different realm and should disqualify him from the privilege of teaching law to our students and strip him of the honor of an endowed chair,” the letter says. “Conspiratorial claims of a stolen election were the basis of the insurrection, and [Eastman] was identified on television as a faculty member of our university.”

Free speech is “sacred,” faculty members said, “and tenured academics like Eastman have the privilege of speaking their mind without fear of repercussion. But Eastman abused that freedom.”

In response, Chapman president Daniele Struppa said he could not fire Eastman for his participation at the rally, as Chapman’s Faculty Manual “does not allow me to decide on my own that any faculty is a criminal or that they should be disbarred and therefore fired.”

Dissatisfied with that position, Chapman’s Faculty Senate was preparing a resolution regarding Eastman’s part in last week’s events. The Senate has pulled that resolution, given his resignation, according to information from the university.

“Dr. Eastman’s departure closes this challenging chapter for Chapman and provides the most immediate and certain path forward for both the Chapman community and Dr. Eastman,” the university said in its statement about the resignation. “Chapman and Dr. Eastman have agreed not to engage in legal actions of any kind, including any claim of defamation that may currently exist, as both parties move forward.”

Eastman referred questions to a separate statement, which rehashes many of the fraud allegations he made at the rally and in his unsuccessful legal challenge to the election results.

Eastman’s statement says that none of his law school faculty colleagues put their names to the L.A. Times letter, but that the rest of the signers “have created such a hostile environment for me that I no longer wish to be a member of the Chapman faculty, and am therefore retiring from my position, effective immediately.”

Tom Zoellner, a professor of English at Chapman who signed the L.A. Times letter, said Thursday that he had no opinion as to whether Eastman should have been fired instead of allowed to resign. But he was happy the signers had been heard.

“We take freedom of speech and tenure protections really seriously. That’s got to be a super-high bar to cross, and any action like that should never be done hastily,” he said of firing tenured professors. “What we said was that the university needs to take action.”

Zoellner said the faculty members and trustees who signed the letter felt that “one of our colleagues was using the name of the university, at least passively,” in a way that “was inciting rebellion against the Constitution of the U.S., and participating in an event that led to a disgraceful spectacle unlike anything we’ve seen in this country.”

Zoellner added, “You know, he’s claiming to use his right to free speech, and we’re using ours to say this is not acceptable.”

Students, many of whom also lobbied for Chapman to discipline Eastman, also celebrated his departure.

“While I’m happy Dr. Eastman will no longer work for Chapman University, it’s shameful it took this long for any meaningful action to occur and that Eastman was able to leave on his terms and not by a complete denunciation by the university,” Daniel McGreevy, a sophomore majoring in political science, said in a statement. McGreevy previously authored and sent a petition to the California State Bar Association calling for Eastman to be disbarred.

Eastman is completing a visiting professorship reserved for political conservatives at the University of Colorado at Boulder. When his term is up there, he plans to devote his time to the Claremont Institute, a California think tank, and its Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, which he directs.

And Eastman may be picking up additional work soon: Reuters reported that Trump is eyeing him for his second impeachment trial defense.





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