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Obama as a Law Teacher.--

The New York Times has a good article on Barack Obama's time teaching at the University of Chicago Law School.

But Mr. Obama's years at the law school are also another chapter — see United States Senate, c. 2006 — in which he seemed as intently focused on his own political rise as on the institution itself. Mr. Obama, who declined to be interviewed for this article, was well liked at the law school, yet he was always slightly apart from it, leaving some colleagues feeling a little cheated that he did not fully engage. The Chicago faculty is more rightward-leaning than that of other top law schools, but if teaching alongside some of the most formidable conservative minds in the country had any impact on Mr. Obama, no one can quite point to it.

"I don't think anything that went on in these chambers affected him," said Richard Epstein, a libertarian colleague who says he longed for Mr. Obama to venture beyond his ideological and topical comfort zones. "His entire life, as best I can tell, is one in which he's always been a thoughtful listener and questioner, but he's never stepped up to the plate and taken full swings."

Mr. Obama had other business on his mind, embarking on five political races during his 12 years at the school. Teaching gave him satisfaction, along with a perch and a paycheck, but he was impatient with academic debates over "whether to drop a footnote or not drop a footnote," said Abner J. Mikva, a mentor whose own career has spanned Congress, the federal bench and the same law school.

Douglas Baird, another colleague, remembers once asking Mr. Obama to assess potential candidates for governor.

"First of all, I'm not running for governor, " Mr. Obama told him. "But if I did, I would expect you to support me."

He was a third-year state senator at the time. . . .

For all the weighty material, Mr. Obama had a disarming touch. He did not belittle students; instead he drew them out, restating and polishing halting answers, students recall. In one class on race, he imitated the way clueless white people talked. "Why are your friends at the housing projects shooting each other?" he asked in a mock-innocent voice.

A favorite theme, said Salil Mehra, now a law professor at Temple University, were the values and cultural touchstones that Americans share. Mr. Obama's case in point: his wife, Michelle, a black woman, loved "The Brady Bunch" so much that she could identify every episode by its opening shots.

As his reputation for frank, exciting discussion spread, enrollment in his classes swelled. Most scores on his teaching evaluations were positive to superlative. Some students started referring to themselves as his groupies. (Mr. Obama, in turn, could play the star. In what even some fans saw as self-absorption, Mr. Obama's hypothetical cases occasionally featured himself. "Take Barack Obama, there's a good-looking guy," he would introduce a twisty legal case.) . . .

Because he never fully engaged, Mr. Obama "doesn't have the slightest sense of where folks like me are coming from," Mr. Epstein said. "He was a successful teacher and an absentee tenant on the other issues."

Because my daughter, who is doing an internship at the Chicago Law Library, recently made copies of Obama's course evaluations for the Communications Office at the Law School, I sort of expected that a story like this was coming. The Law School then releases course evaluations to curious outsiders only with permission of the instructor. [This paragraph has been corrected to reflect more detailed facts.]

The Times blog has his syllabi and exams as well, and our own Randy Barnett will be commenting on them on Wednesday.

TyWebb:

Teaching gave him satisfaction, along with a perch and a paycheck, but he was impatient with academic debates over "whether to drop a footnote or not drop a footnote," said Abner J. Mikva...
Because he never fully engaged, Mr. Obama "doesn't have the slightest sense of where folks like me are coming from," Mr. Epstein said. "He was a successful teacher and an absentee tenant on the other issues."


I found the article (these quotes in particular) more insightful as to the inner workings of the minds of academic elites than the profile of Obama. I mean, do professors really get upset when someone is an "absentee" to other issues when they're "successful" at carrying out the mission of the institution? Do they find it remarkable that someone would get bored with such a pointless exercise as the location of citation?

Oh, those that can't do...
7.30.2008 12:11am
David Warner:
"We find that the academic rank, teaching experience, and terminal degree status of mathematics and science professors are negatively correlated with contemporaneous student achievement, but positively related to follow-on course achievement. Across all subjects, student evaluations of professors are positive predictors of contemporaneous course achievement, but are poor predictors of follow-on course achievement."

From this post no this very blog
7.30.2008 12:16am
Mike& (mail):
I reviewed the syllabus and exams. Obama seemed like a very good professor.

That Epstein and others found him unsatisfactory is telling. It shows that many professors don't care about students.

Isn't the primary mission of an educational institution to educate students? If Obama was the excellent teacher his materials make him seem to be, what's the problem?

All Epstein can think of, though, is the injury that being ignored caused his ego.

I don't see how that's a black mark on Obama. I do view that as a black mark on Epstein.
7.30.2008 12:17am
davidbernstein (mail):
Don't harsh on someone because of one or two quotes in a lengthy article. Most likely, the reporter talked to Epstein for 10 - 20 minutes (which, knowing Epstein, would be more like 45 minutes talking to others--and I mean that in a very nice way), and picked out these couple of lines focusing on whether Obama interacted at faculty workshops or with his "right-wing colleagues." The answer to both apparently is "no", but who knows what else Epstein said.
7.30.2008 12:24am
James Lindgren (mail):
Epstein is not the only Chicago professor who complained that Obama was never around. One Chicago colleague said that he/she was supporting Clinton because he/she had been on the faculty for years with Obama and had never met him.

And the main purpose of the U of Chicago, like other main research universities, is to advance knowledge, which can be done both by writing and by teaching.

Don't confuse the main source of funds with the university's main purpose.
7.30.2008 12:28am
Why?:
Obama's exams seem to have a recurring theme, IVF and homosexuality. Why?
7.30.2008 12:32am
Vernunft (mail) (www):
His real birth certificate proves he was a test-tube baby created from two men. <-true story
7.30.2008 12:42am
Case2L (mail):
I find it interesting that it seems that his entire Con law class seemed to be dealing with the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. I read through the answer memos and a couple of the other exams and didn't see any other topics pop up. While those are definitely important subjects, there's a lot more in there than that.
7.30.2008 12:53am
Girlwonder:
Obama's exams seem to have a recurring theme, IVF and homosexuality. Why?

Probably because the exams were for his "Equal Protection and Due Process" class, and over the past few years those have been hot topics in, um, equal protection and due process law.

You might also be surprised to find out that the course syllabus for his "Racism and the Law" seminar contains reading materials that similarly have a recurring theme (on, uh, race and racism).
7.30.2008 12:54am
Jim at FSU (mail):
It explains a lot that his ideas were all torture tested through repeat exposure to liberal law students, a notoriously worldly and pragmatic lot.

Despite their attempts to paint him as some sort of objective centrist, this article gives away too much. For example, I've taken my share of con law classes and I've yet to meet a professor that ever raised Lani Guiner's (sp) left wing nonsense. It would be like a professor just coincidentally bringing up David Duke's political views while being very careful to not to take a stance on them. Would that fly? Of course this is a shitty analogy- it's completely different when you discriminate against white people.
7.30.2008 12:56am
jbb:
@Case2L:

That's because, as noted in the article, the class topic was due process and equal protection, not generic conlaw.
7.30.2008 12:57am
Why?:

Probably because the exams were for his "Equal Protection and Due Process" class, and over the past few years those have been hot topics in, um, equal protection and due process law.


So IVF and homosexuality are the only issues that are relevant when it comes to Equal Protection and Due Process?

How insightful.
7.30.2008 1:01am
Mike& (mail):
Probably because the exams were for his "Equal Protection and Due Process" class, and over the past few years those have been hot topics in, um, equal protection and due process law.

First the bigots suggested he was never really a professor at Chicago.

Now that they can't do that, they want to say he was trying to brainwash his students while teaching.
7.30.2008 1:01am
Mike& (mail):
Of course this is a shitty analogy

Yes, it is. Knowing this, you still used it.

I should start calling the anti-Obama bigots Gumby; because y'all will stretch in every direction - no matter how silly you look with arms and legs tangled - to defame him.
7.30.2008 1:04am
Case2L (mail):
JBB, I guess it shows that I just cut to the sidebar to read the exams. Doh!
7.30.2008 1:11am
RBG (mail):
Epstein undoubtedly has a large ego (and rightfully so), though not as large as Geoff Stone's. But Mike&has obviously never had the benefit of spending time around Prof. Epstein, whom many of us at the law school found to be both one of the most intellectually stimulating teachers - he has, in the opinion of many students, a great, if somewhat absentminded, classroom presence - and one of the most genuinely caring members of the faculty.

In other words, Epstein is not faulting Obama for being a great teacher - and he's certainly not jealous of Obama for having that reputation. Why would he be, given that his own reputation as a teacher is none too shabby and, given that he actually deigns to teach first-year law students, he has an exponentially greater influence in the intellectual development of students at the law school? What Epstein was addressing, I believe, was the myth that's arisen: Namely, that Obama's presence at a "right-wing" law school has given him insight into how conservatives think and made him more empathetic to their views. This myth gets peddled to me on what seems like a daily basis by my Obama-supporting (or is it now Obama-worshiping?) friends. Epstein's just refuting the myth by pointing out that Obama never really engaged the ideas that were being exchanged at the law school, much less interacted on an intellectual level with somebody like Epstein himself or Doug Baird or Philip Hamburger (when he was there) or any of the other libertarian or conservative types.
7.30.2008 1:22am
Girlwonder:
So IVF and homosexuality are the only issues that are relevant when it comes to Equal Protection and Due Process?

Although instinct is telling me that it is probably useless to engage you on this point, I just can't help myself. Of course those aren't the only "relevant" issues. They are, however, unsettled areas of equal protection and due process law. This makes those perfect for law school exams because it forces students to take what they have learned in class (such as what the Supreme Court has said about segregation or birth control) and apply it to issues that the Court has not definitively addressed (such as homosexuality or IVF).
7.30.2008 1:26am
Lawprofcommentator (mail):
Because coming up with new exam topics every year is a pain in the @@@
7.30.2008 1:31am
Lawprofcommentator (mail):
Because coming up with new exam topics every year is a pain in the @@@
7.30.2008 1:31am
Jim at FSU (mail):
Mike&:
It isn't defamatory to note that you can't examine anything Obama has done in the past 30 years and not instantly find yourself reminded of the most far-left ideas and the most radical leftist activists. You know, the people and ideas that he has embraced since before he entered public life.

As far as his vaunted objectivity, I suspect Obama fancied that affirmative action would someday take him to the supreme court and he wanted to remain confirmable. Even seen through this smokescreen, Obama is as far left as anyone can get without advocating violence.
7.30.2008 1:43am
Girlwonder:
Epstein's just refuting the myth by pointing out that Obama never really engaged the ideas that were being exchanged at the law school, much less interacted on an intellectual level with somebody like Epstein himself or Doug Baird or Philip Hamburger (when he was there) or any of the other libertarian or conservative types.

RBG, I agree with you on this, but only to a certain extent. Obama was never as engaged with other faculty as, say, Epstein was, but I'm not sure it's fair to characterize this as an unwillingness to engage. I think it's really a function of the more limited amount of time he spent at the Law School because of this State Senate duties. At least when I was there, he would occasionally have time for a cup of coffee before class with a few of his students (when most faculty hadn't arrived yet), and then he'd be there for his office hours, but that was pretty much it.

I do want to defend Epstein, though. He was incredibly generous with his time, and easily one of the most accessible professors at Chicago.
7.30.2008 1:47am
PersonFromPorlock:

Most scores on his teaching evaluations were positive to superlative.

I'm not too impressed with teaching evaluations; I've dropped several courses where the instructor diminished the sum total of human knowledge every time he spoke and was never asked to submit an evaluation on any of them. Passing the evaluations out at the end of the course produces a biased sample.
7.30.2008 2:06am
James Lindgren (mail):
I talked briefly to Epstein tonight. He was at the next table at dinner. I know him reasonably well, but he pointed out that he remembered which class I had him for, which term I had him, and the case he started with that year.
7.30.2008 3:51am
Ricardo (mail):
For example, I've taken my share of con law classes and I've yet to meet a professor that ever raised Lani Guiner's (sp) left wing nonsense. It would be like a professor just coincidentally bringing up David Duke's political views while being very careful to not to take a stance on them.

Nice try, but as the article notes explicitly: "'He surfaced all the competing points of view on Guinier's proposals with total neutrality and equanimity,' Mr. Franklin said. 'He just let the class debate the merits of them back and forth.'"

What's the world coming to? Professors who discuss influential people and topical ideas (the article notes Ms. Guinier was nominated to be Assistant Attorney General under Clinton in 1993--he was lecturing at U. Chicago at this time), present counter-arguments and let the class debate the merits and demerits of each position!

And you note how absurd it would be for a professor to note David Duke's views without taking a stand on them. Except, again as the article mentions, "Mr. Obama liked to provoke. He wanted his charges to try arguing that life was better under segregation, that black people were better athletes than white ones."

Yes, his classes do truly sound like one step removed from re-education camps.
7.30.2008 3:54am
Washington (mail):
There can be a big difference between being an excellent teacher and a popular teacher. Obama was likely more popular than excellent especially if he gave mostly good grades.

Showing up but not fully engaging is exactly what Obama did in the Illinois State Senate as well. He didn't step up to the plate and take any full swings in the IL Senate either, except maybe his effort to ban ephedrine and ephedra in Illinois, which was later found unconstitutional I believe. Not so good from a Constitutional law professor to have a law you champion struck down.
7.30.2008 4:25am
Oh, yeah (mail):
For example, I've taken my share of con law classes and I've yet to meet a professor that ever raised Lani Guiner's (sp) left wing nonsense.

They were raised in my Corporations course.
7.30.2008 5:20am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
wash:

his effort to ban ephedrine and ephedra in Illinois, which was later found unconstitutional I believe


I think you're repeating a rumor. IL has such a law, and I can find no sign that it's ever been declared unconstitutional.

There's also a federal law, that I know Obama supported. It's called The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005. It's part of the Patriot Act. It was passed in the Senate by unanimous consent. In the House the support was mostly R.

This law has also not been found unconstitutional.

I hope you'll tell us where your information comes from.
7.30.2008 5:27am
BGates:
He did not belittle students....In one class on race, he imitated the way clueless white people talked.
But not you guys. You guys are cool. I'm imitating those other white people.

"Why are your friends at the housing projects shooting each other?" he asked in a mock-innocent voice.
"It's part of the government's plan to commit genocide against the black race," he answered in a mock-Pastor Wright voice.
7.30.2008 6:43am
MR (mail) (www):
I talked briefly to Epstein tonight. He was at the next table at dinner. I know him reasonably well, but he pointed out that he remembered which class I had him for, which term I had him, and the case he started with that year.

I sometimes like to say that a person has forgotten more than I know. You can't say that about Richard Epstein, because I am not sure he has ever forgotten anything.

He remembered me when we talked at Stanford a couple years ago, and I graduated 10 years ago and never had him for a class.
7.30.2008 9:13am
Happyshooter:
In one class on race, he imitated the way clueless white people talked. "Why are your friends at the housing projects shooting each other?" he asked in a mock-innocent voice.

Strange, my computer doesn't show his answer. What was it?
7.30.2008 9:40am
FantasiaWHT:
(reposting here because the discussion is more lively)
Hmmm, the black professor teaches three courses all heavily focused on race? Can't say I'm surprised.

This comment disturbed me from a philosophical perspective:



"Are there legal remedies that alleviate not just existing racism, but racism from the past?"



I realize that was a student's note from the class, but likely those were the kind of ideas being espoused.

Finally, was anybody else a little disturbed by the mockery of "clueless" white people?

The undercurrent of the article is a strong belief in victimhoom and the inability of the white folk to "get" black problems.
7.30.2008 9:56am
The Ace (mail):
Yet another example of the negative press Obama is getting!

"Testing Ideas, Professor Obama Stood Apart"

The right wing media is trying to tear this man down I say!
7.30.2008 10:24am
Ben P (mail):

Finally, was anybody else a little disturbed by the mockery of "clueless" white people?


You mean like comedians do every day?
7.30.2008 11:20am
Alex Denmark (mail):

You mean like comedians do every day?


I don't find most comedians funny at all, and I would attribute "disturbing" to like comments by them as well.
7.30.2008 11:25am
FantasiaWHT:
Stupid public computer. That's me above.
7.30.2008 11:25am
big dirigible (mail) (www):
"You mean like comedians do every day?"

Is U. Chicago full of comedians?

Clue me in, I don't know; I'm an MIT man.
7.30.2008 12:13pm
DiverDan (mail):

In one class on race, he imitated the way clueless white people talked. "Why are your friends at the housing projects shooting each other?" he asked in a mock-innocent voice.


I, for one, was disturbed by that little anecdote. It seems that if Barack Obama wants to moderate a meaningful discussion of race in this country, he really shouldn't start that discussion with a mocking, snearing comment designed to show the stupidity of "clueless white people." Can you imagine the horrific uproar if a white professor of law made a snide reference in a mock "ghetto" dialect regarding the supposed stupidity of blacks? Tenure or no, you can bet that he would be off the faculty and unemployable. Obama's racism (if what was described really happened) deserves no less.
7.30.2008 12:27pm
Ben P (mail):

I don't find most comedians funny at all, and I would attribute "disturbing" to like comments by them as well.


Well I guess someone who's too uptight about race to find it funny can't be helped.
7.30.2008 1:21pm
mls (www):
Douglas Baird, another colleague, remembers once asking Mr. Obama to assess potential candidates for governor.

"First of all, I'm not running for governor, " Mr. Obama told him. "But if I did, I would expect you to support me."

Obama wouldn't be so flip if he had met Baird's brother Bruiser
7.30.2008 1:35pm
Washington (mail):
jukeboxgrad - I remember the Barack Obama ephedrine legislation from when it was happening in 2003 and I was "involved". ESPN still has a story up about the complete statewide ban in Illinois which is no longer in place. The law you cite from 2005 is different. The law Barack Obama introduced, sponsored, and championed its way through the Illinois Senate was to put ephedrine in the same category as heroin and cocaine in Illinois. It was signed by Blagojevich in May 2003. Senate Bill 1418, The Ephedra Prohibiton Act, yes Barack Obama introduced it and named it The Ephedra Prohibition Act believe it or not. Public Act 093-0008. Long before the FDA issued their ban in 2004, which from my recollection is why the criminal charges were thrown out on at least one prosecuted case. Good luck finding the cases, but I'm sure they are out there.

Barack Obama also voted in favor of several bills regarding election law that were ruled unconstitutional in Lee v Keith in the 7th Circuit. In fact, Barack Obama used those laws to remove political competition from the ballot. And did nothing to change them even if he did know they were unconstitutional.
7.30.2008 4:48pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
wash:
the complete statewide ban in Illinois which is no longer in place


I wish you could document your claim that the ban "is no longer in place." Also your claim that the Ephedra Prohibition act "was later found unconstitutional." Also your claim that "the criminal charges were thrown out on at least one prosecuted case."

The web site for the Illinois General Assembly has the Ephedra Prohibition Act listed in a section called "Illinois Compiled Statutes." According that page, the law went into effect on 5/28/03, and I see no indication that the law "is no longer in place."

Also, ephedra.com lists laws regulating ephedra, and the Ephedra Prohibition Act is listed there with no indication that it "is no longer in place."

Barack Obama also voted in favor of several bills regarding election law that were ruled unconstitutional in Lee v Keith in the 7th Circuit.


Really? That decision is here (pdf). It struck down laws that dated to 1980 and earlier. Obama voted for those bills? Really?

Who's paying you to make up all this baloney?
7.30.2008 5:51pm
Washington (mail):
jukeboxgrad:

"Who's paying you to make up all this baloney?"

What are you ten years old?

Was Illinois the first state to completely ban ephedrine ayear before the FDA did? Yes. How can Illinois ban it before the FDA and enforce the ban and what happened in between the Illinois ban and the FDA and then the later court ruling in 2006?

If you can't comprehend complicated issues that is more an indication of a deficiency in your intelligence and maturity than evidence I'm being paid to lie.

How many times were those election laws changed since 1980? Signature requirements changed, deadlines changed to put George Bush on the ballot, re-districting considerations, fixing measures that didn't allow Senate candidates to be replaced, and on and on and on. Yes some election laws are older than from 1980. You are brilliant aren't you. And those laws struck down in Lee v Keith were in place from 1996 to 2004 while Barack Obama was sworn to uphold the Constitution, yet he did nothing about them. Barack Obama also voted to put George Bush on the ballot in 2004 when Bush ignored Illinois' deadline.

Being lazy and ignorant hardly gives you grounds to make slanderous accusations.
7.30.2008 7:24pm
Washington (mail):
Read the frickin law jukeboxgrad. Then go into a store in Illinois and buy some ephedrine for all the proof you need. That's funny Obama's Drug War Escalation Law is still on the books, just like at least one of the laws in Lee v Keith is still on the books even though the courts shot it down. Unconstutional laws stay on the books all the time, like Illinois election laws since 1980.

From Obama's Drug War Escalation Law.

(720 ILCS 602/20)
Sec. 20. Prohibition.
(a) No person may sell or offer for sale any dietary supplement containing any quantity of ephedra or ephedrine alkaloids to any person located within the State or to any person making the purchase from within the State.


Now you tell me how someone in Illinois could legally buy ephedrine from July 1, 2003 until at least December 2003 when the FDA issued rules on ephedrine that subsection (b) would allow? What would happen if someone were prosecuted in between July and December? Hmmm, the law would have been ruled down, wouldn't it?

And we have some results of Obama's efforts to put even more minorities in US prisons with his policies such as Obama's Drug War Escalation Law.
7.30.2008 8:00pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
You have offered this much evidence that the Ephedra Prohibition Act was "found unconstitutional" and "is no longer in place:" none. Let us know when you find some.
7.31.2008 12:25am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
those laws struck down in Lee v Keith were in place from 1996 to 2004 while Barack Obama was sworn to uphold the Constitution, yet he did nothing about them


That's rich. One of Obama's duties as state senator (according to you) was to go through every statute on the books in IL. And make a prediction about which laws might ever be ruled unconstitutional (after he leaves office). And then make efforts to fix those laws. And if he allegedly fails to do this, you claim it's fair to accuse him of "showing up but not fully engaging." Even though he sponsored over 800 bills, in over a dozen different categories.

The one who is "showing up but not fully engaging," as well as apparently making things up, is you.
7.31.2008 11:07am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
And we have some results of Obama's efforts to put even more minorities in US prisons with his policies such as Obama's Drug War Escalation Law.


Since you're so upset about efforts to restrict ephedrine, you should start by protesting to the GOP. It strongly supported the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005. When it came time to vote on it in the House, it was overwhelmingly supported by R and opposed by D.
7.31.2008 12:18pm