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Interesting Tidbit from the Times Story on Obama at U. Chicago:

Soon after [he lost his Congressional race in 2000], the faculty saw an opening and made him its best offer yet: Tenure upon hiring. A handsome salary, more than the $60,000 he was making in the State Senate or the $60,000 he earned teaching part time. A job for Michelle Obama directing the legal clinic.

Given Obama's obvious talents, I'm hardly going to gainsay Chicago's offer. Indeed, I think that there should be room on a law faculty [especially, at schools where, unlike Chicago, much of the "scholarship" produced by the faculty is pedestrian at best] for incredibly gifted people who aren't especially interested in writing law review articles, if they can make sufficient contributions to the law school in other ways.

But given Chicago's reputation as the most hardcore of legal academic institutions; and given that Chicago is one of the few law schools that is (admirably) known for having strict tenure standards, and actually has denied tenure to some rather impressive scholars; and given that I've heard Chicago professors say (as of the mid-90s, a bit before the relevant offer) that there was a firm consensus on the faculty that they would never hire anyone who didn't meet the highest scholarly standards, regardless of other considerations; and given that Obama had published no legal scholarship whatsoever at this point; this is a bit surprising.

J.L.C. (mail):
Ok. So let me get this straight. He doesn't publish anything. Chicago votes him a tenure offer. He turns it down.

The idea that he was offered tenure but turns it down seems highly unlikely.

This mania just makes me sick.
7.30.2008 12:44am
neurodoc:
...this is a bit surprising.
Did you miss, "The school had almost no black faculty members, a special embarrassment given its location on the South Side."?

Given all those apparent inconsistencies with Chicago's well-established hiring practices, some might have seen the school's offer as an example of affirmative action. If Chicago had not made Obama that offer, I would have seen the school's failure to make the offer as an example of stupid inflexibility at work.
7.30.2008 12:47am
Eugene Volokh (www):
neurodoc: If it was race-based preferences at work -- which is quite possible -- then what's telling is the magnitude of the preference. Here a research institution that prides itself on its scholarly productivity is hiring with tenure someone with zero scholarly publications. That's not a thumb on the scales. It's not a holistic all-things-considered review that considers race as one of many factors (whatever exactly that means). It's not choosing among several candidates who all possess stellar qualifications under normal standards. It's not a mild preference. It's not looking closely at a black applicant's file to make sure he hasn't been disadvantaged by subconscious bias in applying the normal criteria.

It means that zero publications (admittedly, coupled with a very good law school record, obvious intelligence, and teaching skills, but with absolutely no proven scholarship -- the key requirement for research institutions) plus being black gets you a tenured position. And that's in a school where getting even a tenure-track entry-level slot would likely take several finished, innovative, and high-quality articles (if you're white or Asian, that is). If you're right that this was "an example of affirmative action" -- quite possible -- then it's exactly the sort of race-based preference that foes of race preferences point to, and that defenders of race preferences say doesn't really happen.
7.30.2008 12:59am
Patrick McKenzie (mail):
>>
then it's exactly the sort of race-based preference that foes of race preferences point to
>>

It would also be an example of race preferences primarily benefitting blacks who are already relatively well-positioned. By the time Chicago was making that offer, Obama had a degree from Harvard Law, was a state senator (!), etc.

Yet race preferences are often defended because they benefit people who otherwise would not have a fair chance.
7.30.2008 1:10am
Eli Rabett (www):
You are missing two key things:

One, Obama was not a blank slate for the faculty at Chicago. He had been teaching there for some time, so they obviously had confidence in him.

Two, Obama clearly had no interest in cranking out scholarly papers as would have been expected.
7.30.2008 1:11am
jim47:
Isn't it more likely that Obama is so sui generis that he was given a unique offer than that his offer reflects underlying realities about affirmative action in general?
7.30.2008 1:13am
Lawprofcommentator (mail):
12:13, that seem likely, given that Chicago surely had, or could have had, opportunities to hire other black professors with real scholarly achievements over the years, and had been criticized for years for not hiring anyone. Either that, or Chicago was getting turned down by every black candidate it approached, was panicking over its inability to lure in a black professor, and in desperation approached Obama with a tenured offer.
7.30.2008 1:27am
Hei Lun Chan (mail) (www):
Is it just me or is the most likely explanation that the school didn't actually offer tenure to him, despite what the story says? It's certainly more plausible than affirmative action or that he is such a unique talent, mocking of him being The One or the Obamassiah aside.
7.30.2008 1:29am
A. Zarkov (mail):
"Two, Obama clearly had no interest in cranking out scholarly papers as would have been expected."

So that's a qualification to get a tenured position at Chicago? Has any non-black person ever got such a offer?
7.30.2008 1:29am
Visitor Again:
From these comments, it looks like Obama, by refusing the tenure offer, saved the University of Chicago Law School from betraying all it stands for and from destroying itself. What a guy.
7.30.2008 1:37am
John (mail):
"Obama's obvious talents"?

And what would those be? Apparently something that every other U.Chi. professor lacked. Now, what could that have been?
7.30.2008 1:56am
Smokey:
"...incredibly gifted people..."
Oh. That was referring to Odumbo??


Ri-i-i-i-i-ght.
7.30.2008 2:07am
Nonny:
...
7.30.2008 2:12am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
I think it's pretty obvious that they really meant to offer tenure to Smokey.
7.30.2008 2:28am
wooga:
This fits with the "law review president who publishes nothing" thing.

If we just went with socioeconomic based affirmative action instead of race based, we would effectively assist minorities who need it (i.e., not Bill Cosby's kids), while avoiding the stigma leveled against many minorities as being underqualified affirmative action hires (e.g., Obama).

Of course, that would assume that the real purpose behind affirmative action is promoting racial equality... and not simple a patronizing racist method of assuaging white guilt.
7.30.2008 2:47am
neurodoc:
If it was race-based preferences at work -- which is quite possible -- then what's telling is the magnitude of the preference...If you're right that this was "an example of affirmative action" -- quite possible -- then it's exactly the sort of race-based preference that foes of race preferences point to, and that defenders of race preferences say doesn't really happen.
Professor Volokh, I fully understand why you would you would see a preference of telling magnitude given the factual background you recite. I, who am in general very much in favor of merit-based choices and against race-based ones, appreciate how much of a departure it was from Chicago's normal hiring practices to offer Obama tenure in view of his "nonconformity." I don't see the offer of tenure to him as a lowering of the bar to accommodate a not so capable individual, though, that being the usual affirmative action scenario. Rather, I see it as an easily rationalized/justified exception that might have stirred some jealousy or discontent, but served the school well, while not compromising its integrity much, if at all.

I said that if Chicago had not made Obama that offer, I would have seen the school's failure to make the offer as an example of stupid inflexibility at work. I imagine that had be been around to comment, Emerson might have seen such a failure as an expression of "foolish consistency," and surely the University of Chicago's law school is not a place of little minds filled with hobgoblins.

And among both the foes and defenders of race-based preferences are some capable of stupid arguments. In my opinion, any foe of race-based preference who would serve up Obama as an outstanding example of their invidious effects must be incredibly obtuse. They could easily prove more convincing on behalf of the other side than their own.
7.30.2008 2:49am
FE:
Since he is on the verge of winning the presidency through the sheer force of his charisma, we really shouldn't be surprised that he was able to charm a law school hiring committee.
7.30.2008 2:50am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
the "law review president who publishes nothing" thing


This comment pops up a lot, even though of the 80 members of HLR while Obama was there, this many published signed material in HLR: zero (details here).

Can anyone show that it is typical, at HLS or elsewhere, for the president and/or members of the law review to publish signed material in the law review?

By the way, you are not in a position to claim that he published nothing in HLR. HLR contains a lot of unsigned material. You are only in a position to claim that he didn't publish signed material.
7.30.2008 2:58am
neurodoc:
BTW, I should have added that not only am I not a fan of race-based preferences (I think one of the UofMichigan cases was rightly decided, the other wrongly), I am not an Obama supporter, and I am something of an elitist. Also, if there were any reason to think Obama less than intellectually well-endowed, very knowledgeable about the relevant subject matter, and a first-rate teacher, I would come out differently on the job offer.
7.30.2008 3:02am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
It's remarkable to notice the amount of energy being used to avoid considering the possibility that maybe he really is "such a unique talent." Chicago knew him well and they apparently reached that conclusion. But they're dummies, right? (As FE said, "he was able to charm a law school hiring committee." Obviously at a third-rate school like Chicago, this is a group that is easily impressed.)

I wonder if anyone remembers this:

It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.


The people who spoke this way about Bush are not to be trusted when they assess Obama, just like they are not to be trusted when they offer opinions about foreign policy. Fool me once etc.
7.30.2008 3:03am
cathyf:
I imagine that had be been around to comment, Emerson might have seen such a failure as an expression of "foolish consistency," and surely the University of Chicago's law school is not a place of little minds filled with hobgoblins.
*Snort* What you lack, my friend, is an adequate imagination. UC is certainly a place which takes great pride in its "stupid inflexibility". I remember back one winter when the wind chill was 80 degrees below zero, and Dean Levine was asked if they might ever cancel classes because of the weather. He was astonished by the question: UC is exclusively focused upon the "life of the mind"; frostbite is about the body...
7.30.2008 3:15am
LM (mail):
J.L.C. cries out for sarcastro, but is left hanging....
7.30.2008 3:27am
James Lindgren (mail):
What those critical of EV's comment are missing is that there are many absolutely brilliant people who plausibly could write good scholarship (and I have no doubt that Obama could), but never actually do so.

For whatever reasons, many great minds just don't do it. And since Obama was not very active in the intellectual life of the faculty, it's not as if they knew from workshops that he had a million ideas for articles.

Even given his extraordinary talents, someone in Obama's position might be offered a special deal, but not tenure: perhaps a 5-year appointment with a professorial title, or an offer of tenure contingent on completing a major piece of scholarship. If you think that any non-minority young head of the law review at Yale or Harvard could be hired by Chicago with tenure without an article, then you don't understand the market.

Most top schools these days wouldn't even interview a non-minority candidate who was HLS President of the review, with no pubs, state legislator, great teacher -- let alone offer him a tenured slot.

I may well have favored such an offer for Obama if I had been at Chicago at the time, but EV is correct that no young non-minority candidate in his position would be given even a moment's consideration for a tenured slot with no scholarship in the prior decade.
7.30.2008 4:12am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
If you think that any non-minority young head of the law review at Yale or Harvard could be hired by Chicago with tenure without an article, then you don't understand the market.


It seems to me that you're bending over backwards to avoid the simplest explanation: he's so exceptional that they decided to do something exceptionally exceptional. You seem to be saying this just isn't possible. Really? Why not? Just because the scenario is so far from the norm? That's how the world works: sometimes things happen that are very far from the norm. And then there will always be people who will say that they don't trust what their lying eyes are telling them.
7.30.2008 4:39am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
In my desire to "understand the market," there are some facts I wish I knew. How many living persons in the world can say they were head of law review at Harvard or Yale? That's a pretty finite number, right? How often does Chicago get to offer a job to one of these persons?

These are facts that would be helpful to know. Just like it would be helpful to know how typical it is for HLR presidents to publish signed articles in HLR.
7.30.2008 4:51am
Perseus (mail):
no young non-minority candidate in his position would be given even a moment's consideration for a tenured slot with no scholarship in the prior decade.

While this doesn't necessarily prove that he was made the offer as a result of racial preference, it's pretty clear that the offer was not based on his prospects (let alone his accomplishments) as a productive academic scholar. (So what did he bring to the table to warrant giving him special treatment?)
7.30.2008 6:01am
Come on!:
Jukeboxgrad--I am an Obama supporter, and I can tell you, that he was offered a tenured position with zero publications is bizarre. It's not just unprecedented; it is absolutely and totally bizarre, so much so that I seriously wonder whether the article got it right. And for this to happen at Chicago of all places! Look, there are lots of EICs of the Yale Law Journal and Harvard Law Review--two a year. And it's a great credential, but it doesn't mean you automatically get a tenured job at the best (for intellectual life) law school in the country. Look to see where EICs are teaching right now--a Yale EIC who also has a PhD just got an entry-level (nontenured) job at Rutgers-Newark, for example. And another EIC got an entry level job at Boston College (and then, after a string of publications, including one in the Yale Law Journal, was offered a nontenured job at Yale). Those are both great jobs, but they are not tenured positions at Chicago. I cannot think of a single other explanation for the tenured offer than that Chicago wanted a black professor. This isn't necessarily a bad thing--knowing Chicago, some sort of highly rational cost-benefit analysis was performed--but really, what else could be going on here?
7.30.2008 7:41am
Hoosier:
"It seems to me that you're bending over backwards to avoid the simplest explanation: he's so exceptional that they decided to do something exceptionally exceptional."
jukebox--Now you're starting to scare me.

neurodoc et al.: I think it may be hard for people outside of academia to grasp what this offer--IF this was the offer--means. At a research university, and especially at a world-class research university like Chicago, faculty publish. That is what they do. That is how they are evaluated, tenured, and promoted.

Teaching is important--to the students. And of course one needs to do it. But the following scenarios apply:

Great scholarship and great teaching: Tenure
Great scholarship and lousy teaching: Tenure
Mediocre scholarship and great teaching: Clear out your office

Your chances of getting tenure at what used to be called a Carnegie I institution if you do not publish EXTENSIVELY is the same as your chances of landing a job as a surgeon if you did attend medical school. It just doesn't happen.

I don't find this very believable, to say the least.
7.30.2008 8:37am
Hoosier:
"did not attend medical school" (of course)
7.30.2008 8:38am
Passing By:
Whatever their impetus, I doubt that Chicago had any fear that it would have to defend its decision against the likes of some of the commenters here. It's fun to pretend otherwise, perhaps, but it's pretty obvious that they fully expected Obama to succeed and excel. "But he's... black" is hardly a response to that.
7.30.2008 8:59am
sabrina (mail) (www):
What most of these remarks speculating on race-based reasoning for offering Obama such a tenured position, if it indeed was offered, lack is a familiarity with Chicago's overweening concern with "keeping up with the Johnsons"; in this case, trying to be as recognizable as their "peer institutions" in the Ivies and Ivy+. (E.g., the concerted effort on the part of the University to have people refer to it as just "Chicago," so it's a one-name school just like the cool kids.) I can't speak about the motivations of the Law School in particular, but I would absolutely be unsurprised to learn that there was some sort of "ooh, hire the charismatic famous person before Harvard/Princeton/whoever gets them" hijinks going on.
7.30.2008 9:19am
Sarcastro (www):
University of Chicago's hiring practices deeply reflect on Obama's character.

I can only assume their association with such a prominent national will injure their reputation, and make them rethink their calculus.
7.30.2008 9:25am
laloca (www):
david bernstein:

what's your point? this was a non-story when the times covered it; it's a non-story now.
7.30.2008 9:26am
Brian Mac:

I cannot think of a single other explanation for the tenured offer than that Chicago wanted a black professor.

Ahem. A black Muslim professor!
7.30.2008 9:43am
ParatrooperJJ (mail):
you think he is gifted???
7.30.2008 9:49am
Mahan Atma (mail):
Obama didn't control what sort of offers the university made to him.

So it seems rather odd to hold that against him, doesn't it?
7.30.2008 9:53am
Eric Muller (www):
If any faculty in the country can be trusted to work out the costs and benefits of an offer to a faculty candidate, it is Chicago.

Right?
7.30.2008 9:56am
Hoosier:
Problem solved!

I just had an email from my good friend and fellow Old Etonian Eric Blair, poetry critic for the 'Journal of the Chicago Bar Association.' I post it here in full:

Smedly, Old Cove,

What ho!

This Obama matter was but the result of good accounting, and a desire to save the LS some hard-earned beans. It seems his ability to turn water into wine allowed Friday afternoons in the Green Lounge to pay for themselves.

Love to the Lizzie!

Pip-pip!

E
7.30.2008 9:58am
Sarcastro (www):
"gifted?" Whatever! Obama has almost no communication skills, just like all the other black profs hired due to Affirmative Action. Does anyone have any examples of Obama actually speaking well? It's all hype, I tells ya!

Imagine of Obama is elected President! The embarrassment Chicago will feel for hiring him without any publications!
7.30.2008 9:58am
Hoosier:
Obama has almost no communication skills, just like all the other black profs hired due to Affirmative Action.

Nope. You dropped the ball on that one.

You are supposed to say that black professors are "articulate."
7.30.2008 10:02am
DavidBernsten (mail):
david bernstein:

what's your point? this was a non-story when the times covered it; it's a non-story now.
It doesn't say anything about Obama, except that he apparently impressed people at Chicago. But in case you forgot, I'm a law professor, and therefore interested in this as a story about U. Chicago Law School, which should be obvious from the post (though I notice that true Obama fans tend to question/cricitism ANY statement related to Obama that isn't obviously supportive).
7.30.2008 10:07am
Brian Mac:

Does anyone have any examples of Obama actually speaking well?

Please! I heard the man delivered his lectures in Ebonics.
7.30.2008 10:07am
Sarcastro (www):
Curse your encyclopedic recognition of media memes, Hoosier!
7.30.2008 10:08am
Eli Rabett (www):
Eli said

"Two, Obama clearly had no interest in cranking out scholarly papers as would have been expected."

Zarkov did a drive by on thttp://volokh.com/posts/1217388045.shtml#he point

So that's a qualification to get a tenured position at Chicago?

No silly, that's why he didn't take them up on the offer.
and then we get the usual from Z

Has any non-black person ever got such a offer?

Zarkov clearly has very high standards when it comes to judging black folk.
7.30.2008 10:11am
OrinKerr:
Jukeboxgrad writes:
In my desire to "understand the market," there are some facts I wish I knew. How many living persons in the world can say they were head of law review at Harvard or Yale? That's a pretty finite number, right? How often does Chicago get to offer a job to one of these persons?
Chicago gets to offer a job to all of them that go on the market, but it is very rare that it does. Getting a tenure-track job at Chicago for a former head of a law review at Harvard or Yale would be a terrific accomplishment: It is an accomplishment many times more impressive and competitive than winning a popularity contest among some law students for the head of the law review. And FWIW, I have never heard of an accredited law school (much less Chicago) offering tenure to someone who had never written an article. It must happen from time to time, but I haven't heard of it.
These are facts that would be helpful to know. Just like it would be helpful to know how typical it is for HLR presidents to publish signed articles in HLR.
HLR does not have signed student works, for Presidents or others. But that is more a matter of form than substance: every HLR editor claims ownership of their notes and case comments on their resumes and CVs, so the fact that they are not formally signed doesn't really matter much. As for how many HLR Presidents do not write any notes or comments, I don't know.
7.30.2008 10:14am
Perseus (mail):
University of Chicago's hiring practices deeply reflect on Obama's character.

Who's suggesting that?

I can only assume their association with such a prominent national [figure] will injure their reputation, and make them rethink their calculus.

Their calculus was made before he became a major national figure (around 2000 just after he was badly defeated in a race for a seat in Congress).
7.30.2008 10:14am
trad and anon:
I find this very odd. I don't find it terribly plausible that he was such an exceptional teacher that the school decided to offer him tenure. I can't say about less elite law schools, but for better or worse top-10 law schools like Chicago have very low expectations for their faculty as far as teaching goes. I actually had a prof 1L year who scheduled her weekly office hour (singular) for when my section was in class.

Perhaps he was really offered a tenure-track position with the understanding that he had better start publishing some scholarship Real Soon Now?

Or, now that I think about it: Obama was the state senator from Hyde Park, where Chicago is located. Perhaps they were hoping to get some government quid for their quo? If so, good for Obama for turning it down (though it's not exactly a profile in courage).
7.30.2008 10:26am
The Ace (mail):
and given that Obama had published no legal scholarship whatsoever at this point; this is a bit surprising.

Really?
Because it isn't surprising to me. He's "inspiring" (to white liberals) and he's black. End of discussion.

Also 2nd the commenter wondering exactly what Obama's "talents" are.
7.30.2008 10:28am
ChrisIowa (mail):
I'm wondering if the reporter knows the difference between tenure and tenure-track.
7.30.2008 10:39am
Sarcastro (www):
Perseus points out that it's a well known impossibility to look at peoples' background and talents and predict that an association now could reap benefits later.

Never happens.

And I am heartened by the fact that no one is using is thread to bash Obama. That would be silly.
7.30.2008 10:40am
runape (mail):
It strikes me there is a lot of envy feeding much of the commentary on this issue. Is it so shocking that a law school (or any institute of higher education) would invest in young talent - heavily, if need be - to keep that talent away from competitors? This strikes me as little different than a professional sports franchise offering a major deal to a rookie. Sure, it's a risk - you never know for sure if you've got Tom Brady or Matt Ryan - but smart investors take certain risks.

Now, you can sit back on tradition and say that that's just not how it's done; but if the traditional model is stupid (which it is), why not try to sign the next big name?

And you might ask why Obama but not anyone else (say, one of the commenters or contributors). That's a perfectly fair discussion to have (I note no one here has commented on McConnell's recommendation, something few people are likely to receive). But I don't think this story reflects poorly on the Law School - if anything, I think it shows a commendable willingness to take measured risks to stay at the top.
7.30.2008 10:41am
Jim at FSU (mail):
For the last time, becoming a law professor has nothing to do with teaching talent. I really wish it did. It has to do with the ability to publish scholarly work. I've never heard of anyone getting a tenure-track position let alone full tenure without having published a lot of scholarly work. Obama has never done this.

Personally, I think hiring professors with real world experience who can teach is superior to hiring professors who publish but have nothing to contribute to the students. But I don't expect these professors to ever be anything more than adjuncts unless they publish. It's just a truism that law professors' primary responsibility is publishing. You would think this would be obvious to anyone that has spent any amount of time talking with their professors or looking them up on SSRN.
7.30.2008 10:44am
Sarcastro (www):
[Anonymous000 is beyond parody.]
7.30.2008 10:45am
Mahan Atma (mail):
"But in case you forgot, I'm a law professor, and therefore interested in this as a story about U. Chicago Law School..."


That's pretty transparent. I'm willing to bet that if Obama wasn't a part of the article, you'd never have mentioned it. (For that matter, there never would have been such an article, because it wouldn't have been terribly newsworthy.)

The guy was a state senator, in addition to having been editor of Harvard law review and obviously being a very good lecturer. How often does that happen, speaking of rarities?
7.30.2008 10:46am
The Ace (mail):
it so shocking that a law school (or any institute of higher education) would invest in young talent

Can you begin to form a partial list of these "talents" please?

I do know he successfully inserted an earmark for the hospital his wife worked at and she subsquently received a big raise.

Does that make him talented?
Because if so, Ted Stevens is like super-duper-oohper talented!
7.30.2008 10:50am
runape (mail):
"Can you begin to form a partial list of these "talents" please?"

Sure.

To begin with, notwithstanding "Jim at FSU," teaching talent does weigh in to the tenure decision, because many good students care about having good teachers, and a significant impetus for all university and law school decisions is retaining the best student body possible.

Second, as noted, McConnell personally recommended Obama based on his interaction with him through the HLR. This reflects well on Obama's technical skills as a writer and editor; his thoughtfulness; his intellectual ability; and his political savvy. Lots of law review editors barely manage not to piss off contributing authors. To affirmatively impress one of them (and a distinguished one, at that), takes something.

I should also note that, contrary to Sasha's rather extreme point above, the fact that a law school takes race into account when hiring faculty is quite different than the fact that a college (or other similar institution) takes race into account when recruiting students. The reason is that the law school stood to benefit far more from Obama's presence than, say, a college would benefit from an additional minority student (or even a number of minority students). If you accept that many of the best students are interested in learning from a racially diverse faculty, the returns to the Law School over time would far exceed the returns to Obama as an individual. The same is not true of the parade of horrible exemplars Sasha conjures up.
7.30.2008 11:01am
runape (mail):
Sorry, confused my Volokhs - I meant Eugene, not Sasha.
7.30.2008 11:03am
Anderson (mail):
I agree that it was probably affirmative action driving the offer to Obama.

But, given how often I hear that student-edited law reviews are crap, I'm not quite sure why being published in crap journals is supposed to be a make-or-break for tenure.

I think ALL law schools would do well to carry a balance of research-oriented and teaching-oriented faculty. The examples of superior performance in both pursuits seem unlikely to be numerous.
7.30.2008 11:05am
BillW:
Apple CEO Steve Jobs is surrounded by a "reality distortion field". I guess the same is true of Obama.
7.30.2008 11:10am
The Ace (mail):
runape,

Funny, I seem to disagree with you on the basic meaning of the word "talent"

Though this does make me laugh:


The law review president's election is a fussy affair, part intellectual debate, part frat house ritual. Obama was one of 19 candidates. As the 61 editors not running for the job debated the merits of the candidates behind closed doors on a Sunday morning in late February, the hopefuls cooked them breakfast, lunch, and dinner . Every few hours, the editors winnowed the list further, until just after midnight, when only Obama and a 24-year-old Harvard graduate named David Goldberg remained contenders .


Obama was not an editor of HLR.
7.30.2008 11:13am
Hoosier:

I think ALL law schools would do well to carry a balance of research-oriented and teaching-oriented faculty.
But they don't. Chicago doesn't. Which is why I don't find the story entirely credible.
7.30.2008 11:17am
brahmin:
When it comes to law school faculty hiring, it is no surprise that blacks with Ivy League pedigrees are hot commodities (and in Obama's case, a double Ivy). In addition, "mainstream" blacks (i.e., those who tend to integrate) are particularly attractive. In Obama's case, these factors led the appointments chair at Chicago to go after him:


Baird approached Obama about a teaching job at Chicago during his third and final year as a student at Harvard. "You look at his background--Harvard Law Review president, magna cum laude, and he's African American," Baird says. "This is a no-brainer hiring decision at the entry level of any law school in the country."



Yep, a no-brainer.
7.30.2008 11:19am
Stephen C. Carlson (www):
I'm wondering if the reporter knows the difference between tenure and tenure-track.

I'm wondering the same. I vaguely recall reading an article a while ago that Obama turned down a tenure-track position at Chicago. I would have remembered it better if the offer had tenure already with it.
7.30.2008 11:26am
rarango (mail):
There seems to me to be an underlying meme in this thread:

Tenure decisions, in my experience, are based on any number of factors--Scholarship is ordinarily placed in fairly high esteem. Yes, applicants ethnicity, rightly or wrongly is a factor; graduate education is normally a factor. And it seems that the U of Chicago was willing to not consider a near total lack of scholarship for other considerations. That is their right. so my question is: Why is this an issue?

Yes--it demonstrates that standards for tenure in leading educational institutions are tenuous at best--but does anyone doubt that? Not if they have any experience in higher education, they dont.

Yes--it demonstrates that U of Chicago saw Obama as someone who could increase their street cred--I'd go with that as a reason if I were an administrator.

I am most assuredly not an Obama fan, but none of this academic furor reflects on Barack Obama--it reflects DIRECTLY on the shoddy nature of academe today--and I am sad to think the U of Chicago is down in the gutter as is most every other institution of higher learning: willing to sell their soul for faculty diversity.

I am leaving my vast estates to Hillsdale College. The rest of these turkey can go boink themselves.
7.30.2008 11:27am
VAP:
Echoing these comments: So, no publications whatsoever (which is apparently our measure of success in the academy), a record of being "well liked" but "not fully engaged" (so call that a service minus), great teaching evals (which are given how much weight normally?) and he gets a tenured offer (not tenure track, insta-tenure), plus a job for his wife.

So how does this happen? Is it pedigree + diversity? Knowing only what one knew then, was that a justifiable offer? I suppose one could argue that the school knew his potential, and that someday he might be President. But, the quote from the article was "your political career is dead." So it didn't look like the school was buying into his political potential. So what justified making such an unparalleled offer? Scholarly potential as evidenced by no scholarship? Service as evidenced by disengagement?

It must've been the teaching. Note to prospective law profs: get an adjunct teaching gig at a top 5 school, get good teaching evals, and you're guaranteed a tenured offer. This is a teaching job afterall.
7.30.2008 11:28am
Order of the Coif:
Don't forget that Obama was part of the Daly political machine. No business in Chicago, not even the University of Chicago, can fail to understand the "need" to please the Mayor. It's like political affirmative-action.
7.30.2008 11:29am
The Ace (mail):
This reads like parody,


Obama gained instant fame, was profiled glowingly in newspapers across the country, and landed a contract for a book that would become "Dreams from My Father," his best-selling memoir.

There was buzz on campus, too. Blair Underwood, the actor who played a black lawyer on L.A. Law, one of the campus' s favorite shows, came to visit Obama at the Law Review and took him out for a Chinese food banquet. People who had helped pave the way were also moved.


Now I want to go to med school and have the guy who played doogie houser come visit me!!!!

N.B. - I did err, Obama was an HLR editor for two semesters.
7.30.2008 11:31am
Jim at FSU (mail):

If you accept that many of the best students are interested in learning from a racially diverse faculty


Say what?

That's a pretty big pile to accept without some sort of proof. Can you prove that there is any benefit from this practice? Or at least prove that there is demand for it in the student body?

Besides focusing on their own careers, most of my classmates seemed concerned that certain of their professors were incompetent (a justified concern, knowing the professors in question). I've never heard racial diversity in the faculty raised as an issue, even informally. Students just want professors that don't suck. I don't think they care in the slightest what color they are.

But again, none of this has anything to do with waiving the publishing requirement.
7.30.2008 11:31am
JBean (mail):
If I may venture a timid opinion re the lack of publication, something else in this article struck me.
"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..."
This "impatience with detail" is evident in his memoir, "Dreams," in the repeated chronological confusion of dates and events -- something he's also exhibited in his speeches (Selma, etc.).
Obama exhibits high verbal intellingence and an ability to write prose, but does he lack the mental discipline that's required in the largely unglamorous work of research, fact-checking, footnotes and citations? Could that also explain why he turned down an offer to clerk for Mikvah? Or is it simply that the drudgery of mere mortals is beneath him, in the rarified air in which he dwells?
7.30.2008 11:37am
OrinKerr:
rarango writes:
I am sad to think the U of Chicago is down in the gutter as is most every other institution of higher learning: willing to sell their soul for faculty diversity.
My recollection is that the University of Chicago Law School currently has zero tenured black professors. If they are willing to sell their soul for faculty diversity, sales must not be their forte.
7.30.2008 11:37am
rarango (mail):
I returned to grad school at the tender age of 55 for my PhD work--I can assure you that faculty competence, a public admin consortium that guaranteed me resident tuition, and willingness to work with a non traditional student were the most important factors--I could have given a damn less about about faculty diversity. but thats what happens when an old conservative goes back for another grad degree.
7.30.2008 11:39am
neurodoc:
And FWIW, I have never heard of an accredited law school (much less Chicago) offering tenure to someone who had never written an article. It must happen from time to time, but I haven't heard of it.
Bill Clinton, who taught Con Law at an accredited law school for awhile before ascending to the Oval Office? (I don't know if he had a tenured position, but I expect that by one means or another he would have gotten tenure if that had been his goal.)
7.30.2008 11:40am
Aultimer:
On one hand, it seems roughly proportional to the fact that Eleanor Holmes Norton is/was on faculty at Georgetown Law - she doesn't even get to vote in Congress.

On the other hand, the Well Known Fact* that no other law school has given a job (at least not a tenured position) to their local elected officials does point out an interesting relationship between Obama, UChi and ethics.

*Prof. Bernstein certainly checked that, right?
7.30.2008 11:40am
laloca (www):

I'm willing to bet that if Obama wasn't a part of the article, [Bernstein] never [would have] have mentioned it. (For that matter, there never would have been such an article, because it wouldn't have been terribly newsworthy.)


i still don't think it's terribly newsworthy, although the amount of ink spilled over the times' coverage in fora such as this is fascinating.

fwiw, i dislike mccain and obama in equal measure, and feel that most "personal interest" stories about either candidate aren't terribly newsworthy. what's next - in-depth coverage of mccain's family ferret?
7.30.2008 11:41am
rarango (mail):
Professor Kerr: I take your point--this is what happens when free market considerations (and a hell of a big endowment) prevail.

I would ask you, though, Orin: do you have any doubts that most educational institutions would, in fact, make such bargains with the devil for diversity? I know what the accreditation institutions look for as I am sure you do.
7.30.2008 11:43am
Jim at FSU (mail):
I also fail to see the benefit of Chicago improving its "street cred." The lack of black students at these schools isn't due to lack of black professors drawing them in. I would hope any student intelligent enough to get in to Chicago would be going there so he has a law degree from Chicago, not because there are black faculty members.

I would lay the blame for low black enrollment at:
-blacks being a minority of the population to start with
-black undergrads having a below average interest in practicing law
-which means you either "underrepresent" blacks or you lower the bar and admit unqualified candidates

All affirmative action does is lower your bar passage rates and give an unqualified student 200k in debt they will be unable to pay back when they flunk the bar. And worse still, black students who do get in on their own merits, excel and pass the bar afterwards will always have the specter of affirmative action hanging over any accomplishments they make.
7.30.2008 11:45am
OrinKerr:
neurodoc writes:
Bill Clinton, who taught Con Law at an accredited law school for awhile before ascending to the Oval Office? (I don't know if he had a tenured position, but I expect that by one means or another he would have gotten tenure if that had been his goal.)
Clinton's position was not tenured. Also, the academic standards in the 1970s were very different from those in the last decade.
7.30.2008 11:59am
OrinKerr:

I'm willing to bet that if Obama wasn't a part of the article, [Bernstein] never [would have] have mentioned it. (For that matter, there never would have been such an article, because it wouldn't have been terribly newsworthy.)
FWIW, the article is currently the #2 most e-mailed article on the NYT website.
7.30.2008 12:01pm
A.C.:
I thought it was traditional for politicians who lost elections to go hide out in academia for a while. Or, if they are conservative, in think tanks. This story does not surprise me. It's just another example of academia saying one thing and doing another, and we all know about that.

My beef is with the "job for his wife" thing. In my opinion, every institution in this country should be banned from offering jobs to trailing wives. (Or husbands, but it is usually wives.) I've worked in places where it was impossible for a woman to get promoted any other way -- the unofficial upper-level female quota was filled ENTIRELY with important men's wives who got their jobs as part of the offers made to their husbands. As a single woman who has to live on her own paycheck and compete on her own resume, I object to that sort of thing very strongly.

(Thus my aversion to Hillary, I might add, but Hillary-bashing seems to have lost its bite.)
7.30.2008 12:04pm
rarango (mail):
Jim at FSU (my alma mater ca 1963). I don't think administrators have the remotest idea about street cred; their decisions are based on what the latest Chronical of HIgher Ed Article says--
7.30.2008 12:05pm
Joe Bingham (mail):
I would hope any student intelligent enough to get in to Chicago would be going there so he has a law degree from Chicago, not because there are black faculty members.

Actually, I'm going there in 2 months, largely because there are black faculty members.

There are black faculty members there, right?!?!
7.30.2008 12:05pm
cathyf:
"This is a no-brainer hiring decision at the entry level of any law school in the country."
Hoosier stated an excellent analogy -- it's like offering someone a job as a surgeon when the person hasn't gone to medical school. It's simply an astonishing story -- and all you folks saying Obama is exceptional are just missing the point. No matter how smart and accomplished the pre-med is, no matter what color, diversity, gender, whatever the just-graduated-from-college applicant brings, that gets an admission to a top medical school, not a scalpel and patients to operate on.

I have to say that whenever I read a story in the newspaper that is about something I know about, the journalist always manages to hopelessly mangle most of the important details. (I was once interviewed about my job by the local paper's features editor. I knew about 5 minutes into the interview that this person was just never going to get it, no matter how and how many times I explained it. And the story came out just as hopelessly garbled as I expected.) So I just assume that when they are talking about something I don't know about they've screwed up just as badly. I think the person who wondered whether the reporter actually understands what a "tenured position" is got it right. I think it's most likely that the reporter simply got the story wrong -- and I don't think that Obama should be blamed for it.
7.30.2008 12:06pm
JP anonymous (mail):
I think this was a case of desperate times calling for desperate measures. The fact that Chicago had no black faculty in 2000 was more than an "embarrassment," as the article calls it. It had serious implications for Chicago's "elite" standing (i.e., USNWR rank), and made it exceedingly hard to attract a racially diverse student body. There was probably also a kind of first-mover problem that made it difficult for Chicago to attract and retain black professors through ordinary tenure-track positions.

Obama was well-liked by the faculty and students, well-connected to wealthy Chicagoans who liked to give their money away (but not necessarily to The Law School, at the time), and as part of the school's effort to attract a critical mass of black professors the extraordinary offer of tenure without regard for scholarship would offend no one (except, of course, Richard Epstein).
7.30.2008 12:08pm
ejo:
we know that BHO accomplished little and got degrees from two Ivy league schools. does that sound similar to any recent presidents, bearing in mind that the one I am thinking of actually had more accomplishments than BHO at the time he was running. Yet one is referred to as a moron while the other has some mysterious intelligence no one seems to doubt that has not really translated into anything relating to accomplishment. Could it be that lawyers (and law professors) might not be as smart as they think they are in the grand scheme of things?
7.30.2008 12:09pm
Nick Occam:

The lack of black students at these schools isn't due to lack of black professors drawing them in. I would hope any student intelligent enough to get in to Chicago would be going there so he has a law degree from Chicago, not because there are black faculty members.

Such students have many options, and may make choices for a myriad of reasons, but you've never been a visible minority, have you?

Oh, and how many Jews are enrolled at the law schools with no Jews on faculty? Hispanics?
7.30.2008 12:12pm
runape (mail):
"I would hope any student intelligent enough to get in to Chicago would be going there so he has a law degree from Chicago, not because there are black faculty members."

This is not the point. I was referring to students who have a choice between a number of elite schools, and has the luxury to choose on criteria other than simply prestige. Among those students (and I believe, based only on my own experience, that a large percentage of students who attend elite law schools were accepted at more than one elite law school), students typically choose based on criteria like financial aid, geography, faculty quality, the intellectual experience, the clinical preparation, and, yes, the ability to engage with diverse viewpoints (which is really a subset of the intellectual experience). For example, many of these students would not enjoy a school that required them to take a course load weighted heavily towards public law (con law, public international law, and so on), and so might prefer Chicago over Yale. Others will feel differently. My point was simply that for an elite law school to compete in the recruitment market for these students, one rational (perhaps dominant) strategy would be to field a diverse faculty. (An alternative strategy might be, e.g., to try to build niche strengths, but few schools have gone this route).
7.30.2008 12:15pm
cgw:
In my state, universities seem to go out of their way to appoint politicians to the faculty. The Orlando Sentinel published an article about three of them just a couple of days ago:

* Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio will get $69,000 to teach one class/semester at FIU.

* Mike Haridopolos, the presumptive Florida Senate president in 2010-11, will get $75,000 a year to teach a history course in the fall and run an intern program at UF.

* State Senator Evelyn Lynn was hired for $120,000/year to run an FSU reading program that she helped to create as a legislator. (After public outcry, she decided to forego the salary and do the job as a volunteer.)

Of course, none of these positions come with tenure (and none are at Chicago). But my guess is that Obama's political connections were at least as attractive as the color of his skin.
7.30.2008 12:20pm
James Lindgren (mail):
A couple of posters point out that maybe the Times got it wrong.

Maybe OBAMA was offered a tenure-TRACK job with no scholarly pubs.

THAT would not have been surprising.
7.30.2008 12:25pm
OrinKerr:
cgw, based on my understanding of the U of C hiring process, I find that extremely unlikely.
7.30.2008 12:41pm
neurodoc:
I remember back one winter when the wind chill was 80 degrees below zero, and Dean Levine was asked if they might ever cancel classes because of the weather. He was astonished by the question: UC is exclusively focused upon the "life of the mind"; frostbite is about the body...
cathyf, two responses:

First, like the "misery index," wind chill is an artificial construct meant to convey a sense of how cold one will feel. It is not the objective measure that actual temperature is, and tends to give an exaggerated impression of how extreme conditions really are. So, let's be clear, a wind chill of minus 80 is not the same as a true minus 80 degrees, something Chicago has not experienced since the last Ice Age, if indeed it ever got that cold then. (BTW, are you alluding to a blizzard in January 1996? We were supposed to fly to Chicago for a bar mitzvah then, but much as we wanted to attend, it was too damn cold for our unacclimated bodies.)

Second, I am not convinced that your dean's refusal to call off classes on account of the weather bespoke "stupid inflexibility" and showed the school to be a place of little minds filled with hobgoblins. He may have believed like G. Gordon Liddy 'That which does not destroy me makes me stronger,' and wanted to weed out the weaklings so as to graduate only the strongest and fittest mentally and physically. (Did you attend class that day or did you wimp out? If you attended class, did you gain nothing of value that day? If you did, you came away with bragging rights, didn't you, being able to say now that the University of Chicago was exceptionally demanding and you made it through, overcoming that which lesser mortals might not have.)
7.30.2008 12:44pm
LawMan 5000:
First, there is no question that Obama was offered tenure at the University of Chicago law school. The law school has been consistent about this and it was well known when I was a student there. He was not offered a "tenure-track" position, he was offered tenure. It seems clear he was offered tenure because he was a very popular, intelligent, accomplished professor that was a known quantity (he had taught there for years) and he helped the woeful state of minorities on the law school faculty. People find it "suspicious"? What do they suspect? The fact that he was offered tenure is an incontrovertible fact, and no one is contesting that race played some role, albeit I believe it is overstated in many of these comments.

Finally, independent of ideology you would have to be blind if you did not see that Obama is uniquely gifted and would be an asset to any law faculty, anywhere. For those who find it "surprising" or "suspicious", what exactly do you suspect?
7.30.2008 12:57pm
fiona (mail):
A job for Michelle Obama directing the legal clinic.
Out of curiosity, is this a typical offer when hiring professors who are not relocating to the area? What about the poor sap who was already directing the legal clinic, does he/she get promoted to accomodate the spouse of newly appointed tenured professor? Is nepotism routine in academia?
7.30.2008 12:58pm
Jim at FSU (mail):

Such students have many options, and may make choices for a myriad of reasons, but you've never been a visible minority, have you?

Oh, and how many Jews are enrolled at the law schools with no Jews on faculty? Hispanics?


Do jews count as a "visible minority" or is that just a clever way of saying "black." I didn't choose my particular law school because I expected the faculty was circumcised. I did it because FSU has a good reputation and is incredibly cheap. That calculus would have remained the same if the whole faculty was klingons.

Also, since when do hispanics even count as a race? They're mostly white people that speak Spanish. And hispanics at law school tend to speak perfect english, so I'm definitely not picking up the "visible minority" thing here either.

Or are you trying to make an argument that because there are lots of jewish law professors there should also be lots of blacks and hispanics, regardless of qualifications? I personally would love to meet a black Randy Barnett or Eugene Volokh. I think we need more like them. But you just can't create great minds by fiat at the recruiting department.
7.30.2008 1:01pm
Random_Anon (mail):
@Jim at FSU


That's a pretty big pile to accept without some sort of proof. Can you prove that there is any benefit from this practice? Or at least prove that there is demand for it in the student body?

Besides focusing on their own careers, most of my classmates seemed concerned that certain of their professors were incompetent (a justified concern, knowing the professors in question). I've never heard racial diversity in the faculty raised as an issue, even informally. Students just want professors that don't suck. I don't think they care in the slightest what color they are.


I went to a top 10 school and complained all the time about the diversity of the professors (no I'm not a nut about racial issues but the fact that there were so few minority professors of any sort was troubling). I have no idea if there's any sort of benefit, but when you're at a school and none of the teachers looks like you, you start to wonder if certain opportunities might be closed off.
7.30.2008 1:03pm
rarango (mail):
I all honesty, this comment is not meant to critical of any poster; I do recognize that all posters have their own criteria to use in assessing the value of their education.

In my program I honestly never gave any consideration to the melanine content nor background of any of my professors. Diversity was simply not an issue for me. Clearly other students expectations vary.

and again: not meant as criticism nor condemnation. just amazement.
7.30.2008 1:17pm
Jerry Mimsy (www):
First, there is no question that... It seems clear... The fact ... is an incontrovertible fact.


LawMan, the "obvious" thread is over here.
7.30.2008 1:18pm
Eric Muller (www):
In light of this post and thread, I was interested to read Akhil Amar's comments on the Obama tenure issue. (He's posted some comments at the NY Times about Obama's course materials.)

First, As a constitutional law professor, I came away impressed — dazzled, really — by the analytic intelligence and sophistication of these questions and answers. A really good exam — an exam that tests and stretches the student, while simultaneously providing the professor with a handy and fair index to rank the class — is its own special art form. Composing such an exam is like crafting a sonnet or a crossword puzzle. We don't have Obama's answer key every year; but the questions themselves are in many instances beautifully constructed to enable students to explore the seams and plumb the depths of the Supreme Court's case law. I am tempted to use variations of several of these questions myself in some future exam. (I won't say which, lest I tip my students off.) When I read Jodi Kantor's piece, I was very interested to hear that the University of Chicago Law School was willing to offer Obama tenure. In these materials I see why.
7.30.2008 1:26pm
Jim at FSU (mail):

but when you're at a school and none of the teachers looks like you


If you think this is such a serious problem, become a professor yourself. Alternatively, click your heels together and go to a place in the world where the law professors look more like you.

You can't magically create good black law professors out of thin air. You need:
a) a black person with the desire to go to law school and eventually become a professor
b) that same black person needs to have the ability to excel at law school, get published and eventually get hired by a law school
c) time and effort on the part of that person to make it happen
7.30.2008 1:29pm
neurodoc:
we know that BHO accomplished little and got degrees from two Ivy league schools. does that sound similar to any recent presidents...
Superficially similar, very superficially.

GWB, like Al Gore and John Kerry, was a son of great privilege, who attended a prestigious prep school, and was admitted to a top Ivy college with academic credentials notably inferior to those of most of his classmates. (He was also the son and grandson of powerful Yale alums.) Once admitted to Yale, GWB, like Kerry, "underperformed" academically, though he elected president of his fraternity (both Kerry and Bush were tapped for Skull and Bones). Had Bush and Kerry applied to Yale a few years after Kingman Brewster taken the helm and made the place more of a meritocracy, they might not have been accepted. Bush's record at HBS was nothing like Obama's at HLS, and Kerry was no standout at BC. (IIRC, Gore's SATs were in the high 500s, which must have made him an exceptional Harvard admit.)

So yes, Ivy degrees all the way around, but no intellectual parity, not even close. Of course, if in choosing a president, one always voted for the candidate with the stronger academic record and intellectual capacities, they would have afflicted us with another four years of the insufferable Georgia peanut farmer, who has proven himself so many times over in the 28 years since the wiser citizens fired him.
7.30.2008 1:46pm
RowerinVa (mail):
My guess is that UC didn't exactly offer Obama what the NYT claims -- instant, full tenure -- because Obama would have been a fool not to take that, and UC would have had too much trouble justifying it. Rather, what they likely offered was something like this: "We will quietly guaranty you tenure in two years, so long as you come here and go through the motions of producing some scholarship. Work hard, attend the workships, act like a professor, and give us a fig leaf of publications -- a fig leaf that we'll help you grow, and very nearly create for you -- and at the end of that time, you're in, regardless of the merit of your publications." Obama, seeing that as a good deal but one that would tie him down for too long, ultimately declined.

That's a much more common type of affirmative action deal. "Here, have this for free because you're black" is simply too direct to fly in most high-level circumstances and I don't think UC would have been so stupid as to make something quite that obvious. I expect they built in a fig leaf demand, and therefore can now say "No, we didn't offer him automatic tenure" without exactly telling a falsehood.
7.30.2008 1:51pm
Thales (mail) (www):
"Hoosier stated an excellent analogy -- it's like offering someone a job as a surgeon when the person hasn't gone to medical school. It's simply an astonishing story -- and all you folks saying Obama is exceptional are just missing the point. No matter how smart and accomplished the pre-med is, no matter what color, diversity, gender, whatever the just-graduated-from-college applicant brings, that gets an admission to a top medical school, not a scalpel and patients to operate on. "

Whatever else may be said for or against Chicago's offer, that analogy is inapt. What "it" is like is offering a job to someone who has gone to medical school to teach in a medical school. Teaching law students is hardly comparable to operating on patients. Law is a human institution and body of study, not a natural science or physical dexterity skill. I for one generally welcome the addition of some "outsiders" to the norm of traditional law school faculty who publish extensive scholarship in the field. In many ways, this is no more extraordinary than Chicago's having Martha Nussbaum teach law school classes despite not having a JD or publishing extensively in law journals (as opposed to her many impressive cognate field publications). Obama apparently impressed the faculty enough (and yes, I'm sure adding racial diversity to Chicago's monochrome faculty was a factor and that Obama would admit the same) to get a tenure offer. Why second guess the wisdom of their decision? The perspective he brought was apparently that of a distinguished person who did something else (civil rights law, community organizing and local and state politics) with his law degree than publish reams of articles. Does there need to be a rule that all similarly situated people are consigned to teaching clinics, part time lecturing or teaching legal writing? The fact that we don't have *more* people like Obama (or Nussbaum or Alan Dershowitz for that matter) with tenure on law faculties strikes me as a weakness of the traditional system rather than a virtue.
7.30.2008 1:52pm
Thales (mail) (www):
Obviously I'm basically in agreement with David Bernstein's original post here and was responding to some of the comments above.
7.30.2008 1:54pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
Amar is right, those are pretty interesting and well-crafted exam questions. Anyone who doubts Obama's qualifications might try to draft their own answers:

Click and scroll down

Can anyone seriously imagine Bush or McCain writing these? I doubt it.
7.30.2008 1:59pm
ejo:
again, the assumption is of great intelligence given apparent high grades in law school (although I would note that Harvard must have a president for the law review every year, right? further, do we know what his grades actually were-top in his class, top 10%? what were they? is there some objective measure that notes that law students are brighter, say, than the group of med students entering the field of neurosurgery or engineering?). then, we have no accomplishment commensurate with the supposedly high grades, something consistent with the pre-presidential accomplishments of our current president. what is the presumption of great intelligence based upon in such a situation?
7.30.2008 2:12pm
Michael F. Martin (mail) (www):
Aaron Director didn't really publish either. Clearly there were still some people that thought that he provided something valuable to the law school community.
7.30.2008 2:15pm
Ben P (mail):
I'm not terribly sure what the point is here.

Is it that the University of Chicago may have considered his race in their offer of a tenure position? I think most would agree that it certainly played a part, probably a major one. It's no suprise that universities look for diversity in faculty these days.

That may say something about the University of Chicago, but how does it say anything about Obama, especially given that he turned it down.

Further, even to the minimal extent it might say something about either party, I'm not sure what it is.

My law school certainly isn't top 20, and Chicago may well pride itself on being the most scholarly of the scholarly, but My school certainly has a mix of professors, some even tenured who's primary accomplishments are something other than publishing scholarship. Usually it's recognized expertise in a field of law, but we've had legislators and a former state attorney general teaching classes in the past too.
7.30.2008 2:30pm
Big Bill (mail):
The cat seems to have gotten everyone's tongue, so let me be the first to speak up.

Chicago profs, we know you are out there. We know you read this blog voraciously. We know some of you have even emailed a bloglink to your fellow Chicago profs.

Your utter silence is deafening. Surely you know you are among friends. You have nothing to fear. At least one of you has already blown your collective cover with the New York Times. Please share your knowledge. What's the scoop?
7.30.2008 2:36pm
Happyshooter:
Sherman Clark at Michigan was offered tenure after 7 papers total (nine if you count puff pieces).

Some of the faculty didn't want to give it to him, but he was the only black harvard grad who wanted tenure and he got it.

A black law review pres who was also a successful pol would be able to cut an even better deal, because Clark's record wasn't anywhere near as good as Obama's.
7.30.2008 2:39pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
Nick Occam's question "you've never been a visible minority, have you?" reminded me of something that happened at the University of Chicago in the fall of 1975. I was sitting around the TV lounge at the Harper Surf dormitory with some other grad students when one of our dorm-mates came in saying "It's like f%*@ing Nairobi, Kenya out there!" He had been shopping a few blocks away and noticed that he was the only white person and the only non-black person in a crowd of 50 or more. Most white Americans, and I suspect all white Americans who attend the University of Chicago, know very well what it feels like to be a "visible minority", though few are jerks enough to complain about it.
7.30.2008 2:44pm
Hoosier:
"Can anyone seriously imagine Bush or McCain writing these? I doubt it."

I admit I couldn't not write them either. Hut then, neither of the three of us went to law school. So one might expect that.

And, yes, I think McCain is as smart as Obama. Sorry.
7.30.2008 2:49pm
PC:
what is the presumption of great intelligence based upon in such a situation?


I have to agree with ejo. What has Obama really done to show that he has some type great intelligence? He started college at Occidental and then transferred to Columbia University. He then went to some dinky institution named Harvard Law School and became the editor of a barely known publication the Harvard Law Review by the end of his first year. He graduated from Harvard Law magna cum laude (what does that even mean?!). Then Obama moved to Chicago and was offered a fellowship at another unknown institution, the University of Chicago Law School (what is that, some sort of community college?). Then Obama taught Constitutional Law at Chicago as a Lecturer for four years and as a Senior Lecturer for eight years. Due to the rampant affirmative action at the University of Chicago Law School, he was offered a tenured position.

Obama has sat on a half dozed boards, been a state senator, is a federal senator and is the presumptive nominee for the president of some unheard of country.

What has Barack Obama done in the 47 years he's been on this planet to make anyone think that he is intelligent? Where's the proof?!
7.30.2008 2:50pm
James Lindgren (mail):
Aaron Director was raised above.

When Aaron Director was hired in 1946, he had at least one major book, The Problem of Unemployment. Of course, he went on to found The Journal of Law &Econ in 1958.

Retention without publishing is different than hiring without publishing.

Some commenters here seem to think that some VC posters commenting here are quetioning Obama's talents; as I've said before, he is very smart and writes better than most of us.

The comments here are chiefly about Chicago's actions. Hiring with tenure without pubs is so unusual for Chicago that it merits discussion.

Chicago is not Georgetown, with a history of hiring beloved Democratic politicians, a heritage it has moved away from.
7.30.2008 2:55pm
Sarcastro (www):
PC, the only true way to tell intelligence is the LSAT. Since Obama hasn't released his, we can assume his score was so low the only thing that saved him from a mental institution was his skin color.

I'll bet all he can do is read teleprompters. He probable didn't write any papers because he can't write at all!
7.30.2008 2:58pm
Hoosier:
Thales: I have great respect for your mind, so I assume that you just missed the point of my analogy--which is quite "apt," thank you very much. I won't repost the whole comment, but here's a part of it:

"Your chances of getting tenure at what used to be called a Carnegie I institution if you do not publish EXTENSIVELY is the same as your chances of landing a job as a surgeon if you did attend medical school. It just doesn't happen."

And you don't get tenure at a 'Carnegie I U' without publications.

You are making the point that medicine and law-teaching are different. Sure. And flying a 747 is different from BOTH of those. But you don't get hired as a commercial airline pilot-in-charge-of-plane, sans ATPL. No matter how much you "impress" people.

Martha Nussbaum is listed as "Distinguished Service Professor." Does this mean that she has tenure? I can't speak for Chicago. But here, that title, or titles like "Research Professor," "Professor of X in Residence," and so on are not tenure-track positions. I'm not saying she ain't impressive. I'm saying that, impressive as she is, I suspect she didn't come up through the tenure ranks. Which bolsters my argument.

So I stick with my analogy.
7.30.2008 2:59pm
Thales (mail) (www):
"PC, the only true way to tell intelligence is the LSAT. Since Obama hasn't released his, we can assume his score was so low the only thing that saved him from a mental institution was his skin color.

I'll bet all he can do is read teleprompters. He probable didn't write any papers because he can't write at all!"

Also, he still hasn't given permission to Hawaii to release the real version of his COLB! And he shouldn't, because it will reveal the special license he was given at birth to get free stuff with no effort because he was destined to turn into a black crypto-Muslim crazy Christian demagogue who wants to enslave white people!
7.30.2008 3:01pm
ejo:
believe it or not, our legislatures are full of law school grads. again, does getting good grades in law school have some connection to grand intelligence that I am missing. I realize most of you here are ignorant of Illinois politics-Obama was of no import or impact in the Illinois senate. Like most members, he voted the way Emil Jones wanted him to (do you know who Emil is-not very bright, certainly not pres of law review but BHO never bucked him). does being presumptive nominee make him intelligent-I very much dispute that. Kerry wasn't particularly intelligent and certainly no good leftist would admit that George Bush is a genius.
7.30.2008 3:07pm
Sarcastro (www):
The purpose of this thread is to assume that Obama was offered Tenure without much evidence, and then to yell about how Chicago should make it's decision based only on publications, and not care about marketing at all.

Then we can all say how disappointed we are that Chicago has made any concessions to the real world AND yell about how Obama isn't qualified for the job.
7.30.2008 3:08pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
I think the comment above about Carter being academically brilliant and having a genius level IQ pretty much moots this whole debate over Obama's intelligence.

I think it all comes back to whether we agree with his policies and want to see them implemented on a national scale. I think it is dangerous to focus too heavily on a few hours a week of teaching classes at a time while he was in the IL Senate advancing a far left agenda and on the Board of Directors for the Joyce Foundation, funneling millions to anti-gun groups.

For all his carefully chosen rhetoric, his actions speak as bluntly and plainly as anything that ever came out of W's inarticulate mouth.
7.30.2008 3:09pm
PC:
How can we be sure that Obama actually wrote the questions for those exams? Has anyone checked the kerning?
7.30.2008 3:12pm
Floridan:
neurodoc: "(I don't know if [Bill Clinton] had a tenured position, but I expect that by one means or another he would have gotten tenure if that had been his goal.)"

That rotten scoundrel! Not taking advantage of an opportunity to take advantage!
7.30.2008 3:12pm
Sarcastro (www):
I wish my name was Barak Obama and I were Black. Cause then I could be president without any talent or effort!
7.30.2008 3:12pm
neurodoc:
There are great differences between law schools and medical schools, and in turn between what is expected of law school faculty and medical school faculty.

First, there is a fairly sharp cleavage in medical school faculties that doesn't exist on the law side, that being the great divide between the pre-clinical and clinical departments. The former (anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, etc.) are for the most part populated by many more PhD basic scientists than MDs or MDs with PhD degrees. With enough grant money to fund a lab and no imposed teaching requirement, a pre-clinical professor could devote him/herself to research and publishing, never setting foot in a classroom. Clinical faculty (not to be confused with those who have "clinical" appointments, something akin to "adjunct" status in a law school) may publish a great deal, a little, or not at all depending on what is demanded of them by their department and there school, as well as grantors if there are any. They will almost always be involved in teaching medical students, residents, and fellows in the course of delivering patient care or overseeing those who deliver it.

Then, "tenure" is virtually meaningless in medical schools for various reasons, and in contradistinction to how it works in law schools, a "tenured" faculty position doesn't operate as a strong lifetime guarantee of medical school employment. If those running the show want you out, you will know it and you will go, tenure notwithstanding.

Medical schools and their faculty could not afford to be nearly as insular in various ways as law schools and there faculty can be without paying too high a price. To be sure, people may speak of medical schools as "ivory towers," but they are a very pale version of ivory towers compared to the otherworldliness of a University of Chicago Law School.

Most clinical faculty would not have too hard a time finding equally or more rewarding opportunities were they to leave the schools they are at for another or the something in the wider world. Can the same be said of law school faculty, who might have had great financial prospects upon graduation from law school, but tend to become less valuable in the wider marketplace with time?

And offering a tenured law school professorship to someone who has never published is so unlike handing a scalpel to someone who never graduated medical school, let alone completed a surgical residency, that "apples and organges" might be understood to mean two things in fact different, but so much alike as to be virtually indistinguishable one from the other.
7.30.2008 3:13pm
Hoosier:
"And offering a tenured law school professorship to someone who has never published is so unlike handing a scalpel to someone who never graduated medical school, let alone completed a surgical residency, that "apples and organges" might be understood to mean two things in fact different, but so much alike as to be virtually indistinguishable one from the other."

And yet again someone misses the point. I'm not discussing the ramifications of doing so. I'm talking about the probability.

So let's not get all confused about this, ok?
7.30.2008 3:15pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"And, yes, I think McCain is as smart as Obama."


Got any evidence for this? Last I heard, McCain thinks Iraq borders Pakistan. That wasn't a mere slip of the tongue, either.

The people here questioning Obama's qualifications have obviously never read his books. The man is an extremely talented writer. That kind of language skill is a pretty good indicator of other kinds of intelligence.
7.30.2008 3:16pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"I think the comment above about Carter being academically brilliant and having a genius level IQ pretty much moots this whole debate over Obama's intelligence."


No it doesn't. Intelligence is a necessary but not sufficient condition. That doesn't make it moot.
7.30.2008 3:18pm
Michael F. Martin (mail) (www):
@Jim Lindgren

I don't know what the academic market was like in 1946 and I don't know as much about Aaron Director as some who could weigh in on this question. But I doubt that having published one book 15 years earlier would have counted for much in hiring decisions during Obama's time at the law school. I suspect that tenure offers are like admissions offers -- highly fact-intensive standards-based decisions at most top law schools. Clearly the offer was made on the basis of his demonstrated academic potential and his teaching ability, neither of which were adequately reflected by his publishing record because of his extracurricular activities. Chicago was taking a chance by offering him tenure. It was not clear to them that he was going to prefer politics to academic life. Had he chosen the latter rather than the former, I see no reason to expect that he would not have been just as spectacular a success, albeit with more limited reach in his influence.

By the way, my wife took a class with Obama while she was at Chicago. She learned a lot, and like many of the students quoted in the article, was impressed with the level of discussion inside the classroom. She also reports that he always looked exhausted, which isn't so hard to understand given how he was splitting his time between teaching, raising a family, and traveling back and forth from Springfield at the time. She likes him a lot, but like Epstein wonders what he really believes about some important issues.
7.30.2008 3:20pm
PC:
I think it is dangerous to focus too heavily on a few hours a week of teaching classes at a time while he was in the IL Senate advancing a far left agenda and on the Board of Directors for the Joyce Foundation, funneling millions to anti-gun groups.


I think this is a very good point. It's obvious that Sen. Obama is an radical, extreme leftist. He's the most liberal sitting Senator, more liberal than the most liberal Senator in 2004, John Kerry. Obama is certainly more liberal than Bill Clinton, who was rated by conservatives as being more liberal than George McGovern. I'm sure Obama is well to the left Dukakis (Taxachusetts!), Mondale (he had a woman as a VP candidate), and Carter (afraid of rabbits).

If you measured Obama on a scale of leftism from 1 - 10 -- 1 being Karl Marx; 10 being a molecular concentrate of Marx, Stalin, Lenin, Mao and McGovern -- Obama would turn go to 11.
7.30.2008 3:23pm
Random Anon:
@jim at FSU



If you think this is such a serious problem, become a professor yourself. Alternatively, click your heels together and go to a place in the world where the law professors look more like you.

You can't magically create good black law professors out of thin air. You need:
a) a black person with the desire to go to law school and eventually become a professor
b) that same black person needs to have the ability to excel at law school, get published and eventually get hired by a law school
c) time and effort on the part of that person to make it happen



First, I'm not black. Second, how about you do things however you want to and I'll do them my way. That involved going to the best school that I could and telling the administration that they should look at qualified minority candidates.

Anyway the point is that you stated that people don't care. Regardless if they should care, or if it even matters, people do care. There was an SBA committee set up to look at the minority faculty situation at my school. Among my group of friends we were all aware how few minority professors there were.
7.30.2008 3:24pm
The Ace (mail):

Got any evidence for this? Last I heard, McCain thinks Iraq borders Pakistan. That wasn't a mere slip of the tongue, either.

And Obama didn't know which Senate Committee he sat on and said there were 57 states.
7.30.2008 3:44pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
Whoop-dee-do? Did the SBA committee reverse the trend of your particular racial group being uninterested in becoming law professors or was it so much sound and fury, signifying nothing? I must admit admiring how you've avoided disclosing what particular "minority" group you happen to belong to and what particular school this took place at. It certainly helps to avoid clouding the discussion with questions of whether you are being even partially honest or talking out of your ass.

Regarding whether people "care," I meant people who didn't fancy themselves crusaders for affirmative action. There will be racial agitators in any environment. I was asserting that the other 95 percent of the student body didn't care. Lets put it this way: if the people who cared and didn't care split up and formed two separate schools, which one would be closed for lack of students? Which one would have a higher bar passage rate?

And none of what you said makes an even halfway compelling argument for affirmative action in faculty hires. We have enough problems with tenured incompetents without hiring people who would have been rejected as unqualified in the first place. When you refuse to give the unqualified affirmative action hires tenure, it looks like you're discriminating against them, so naturally you give them tenure as well. Resulting in.... wasted money and faculty slots at the law school.
7.30.2008 3:54pm
Anderson (mail):
because Obama would have been a fool not to take that

That makes no sense. As the article points out, UC was taking the attitude that Obama's political career was finished after his loss to Rush. Obama saw it differently; he was clearly VERY ambitious, and taking a tenured position only to resign it in a year or two would've been rather insulting to UC.

Also, some commenters have noted his busy schedule as one reason UC may've given him a pass on publication. Don't forget he was *also* practicing law as well as holding office and teaching law -- so he had *two* other jobs, not just one.
7.30.2008 4:02pm
sbron:
I think advocates for AA should remember the words of Thurgood Marshall (according to William O. Douglas' autobiography.)


"You guys," Marshall tells his brethren, "have been practicing discrimination for years. Now it's our turn."


The problem is, it may be your turn today, but someone else's turn tommorow. This is already being seen in California, where Black teenagers complain they cannot get entry-level and local government jobs for lack of Spanish language skills, and where the greatest proportion of hate crimes is Latino against Black. The University of California has gone to great lengths to increase Latino enrollment with "comprehensive review", resulting in complaints from faculty that Black applicants are discriminated against by admissions policies favoring immigrant parents and foreign languages in the home.

Today it is Obama's turn, but whose turn will it be tommorow? As long as preferences are allowed, some group will always be discriminated against.
7.30.2008 4:03pm
Random Anon:
Does it matter what race I am? Let's just say I didn't (most likely) receive any AA boost and I'm against giving AA preferences based on race. I wanted my school to look at its hiring practices and make sure no discrimination was taking place. I found it hard to believe that the low percentage of minority (besides Jewish) professors was due to self-selection. If it was/is so be it, I have no problem with that. But I wanted the school to take a look at the hiring practices and make sure they were race/gender neutral. Again, I wanted the school to look at qualified minority candidates. Being X race does not make one qualified in my book.
7.30.2008 4:42pm
p. rich (mail) (www):
Obama is black, clean and articulate. Of course he should be President of the United States - the ultimate in affirmative actions. How could we conservatives be so misguided?
7.30.2008 4:43pm
neurodoc:
Some more thoughts, questions, acknowledgements, etc.:

- If John Roberts were to tire of his current job and thought to try the law school thing for a few years, would it shock anyone if he were offered a tenured faculty position by Chicago and every other law school in the land, though he was not EIC of HLR and had never published in an academic journal? (Am I incorrect in my assumption that he has never authored a scholarly article?) Might his "life experience" be allowed to substitute for publications?

- Hoosier, when you say "it may be hard for people outside of academia to grasp what this offer--IF this was the offer--means," have you considered the possibility that we may grasp the meaning, but not find it as momentously significant and shocking as we would if the Pope were to ordain a woman, canonize a Muslim, or otherwise radically depart from Church tradition? And when you say that those of us who think the surgeon analogy inapt don't understand because you were talking about probabilities, both being effectively zero, did you really mean to be so categorical about getting tenure at a Carnegie I institution with a record of "EXTENSIVE" publishing? ("It just doesn't happen.") If you do and I only need find one instance of a Carnegie I institution granting tenure to someone without scholarly publications, then offer me some incentive of even nominal value and I will come back with the names of politicians ("statemen") who have been given tenured appointments in departments of political science or government, writers who have been given tenured appointments in English departments, and others who others who managed to slip in. (I will need a list of Carnegie I institutions, because I don't know who they are. DePaul, which came so close to granting tenure to Finkelstein, isn't one, is it?)

- James Lindgren: "Chicago is not Georgetown, with a history of hiring beloved Democratic politicians, a heritage it has moved away from." You weren't alluding to a certain former law school dean and congressman, my Con Law and Professional Ethics professor, were you? Much admired for many things, and deservedly so, but the worst professor I had experience of in the course of K through college and 3 graduate degrees, those degrees from four different institutions, plus additional years of postgraduate training as a resident elsewhere. Never prepared for class (the professor!) and never went into any real substance, instead would go around the room inviting students to say how they "felt" about a topic. Unquestionably a nice person who did many admirable things in his time, but woefully lacking as a teacher of core subjects.

- Runape: "Is it so shocking that a law school (or any institute of higher education) would invest in young talent - heavily, if need be - to keep that talent away from competitors? This strikes me as little different than a professional sports franchise offering a major deal to a rookie." I'm surprised that you didn't draw a response with that from Professor Bernstein, a professed believer in the application of "Billy ball" to law school hiring, and a faculty member at a law school (GMU) that takes that approach to hiring. I expect, though, he would challenge you on unpublished faculty prospects as "young talent," saying it was not that but rather "unproven talent."

- Jerry Mimsy, thank you for making me chuckle with your humorous poke at LawMan on the "obvious" thing. Similarly, thanks for the chuckles to cathf (-80 wind chill doesn't stop mail carriers or dedicated UCLS scholars); PC (BHO outflanks the greatest Commies of all times); PC ("Has anyone checked the kerning?"); those who seriously and earnestly tried to cast doubt on BHO's intellectual capacity; Hoosier ("articulate" and the Old Etonian perspective); Floridan (Clinton "rotten scoundrel. Not taking advantage of an opportunity to take advantage!"); and others who have added levity or sparkle to this thread.
7.30.2008 4:53pm
josh (www):
Andersdoon beat me to the punch. When I was at U of C, I didn't take Obama's class b/c it was only offered at 8 am Monday and 3 pm Friday and I was a lazy, shiftless third-year (knee-jerk liberal, notwithstanding).

The reason for the schedule was so Obama could be in Springfield during the week or at his law practice. While I understand the professors' bemoaning the fact that Obama apparently was given a pass from the norm in which they have been measured, they for some reason are unable here to recognize that other factors apparently were taken into account for Obama's lack of scholarship. The norm is that all tenured professors must have "X", but U of C apparently felt Obama's "Y" made up for his lack of "X."

As uncommon as this may be, I'd like to know how many tenured profs there are out there who are incumbent legislators and practicing lawyers.

Finally, I find the skepticism of the profs here a little strange considering the situation appears to demonstrate the free market at work at its finest. The law of supply and demand dictates that price is set by the two. Obama obviously was in demand (McConnell recommendation; offer from Mikvah to clerk on the 2nd Cir., an apparent sure-fire track to the S Ct; politics was calling; etc.). The U of C, as a market player, simply made the decision that the price was right and made the offer.
7.30.2008 4:56pm
David Warner:
"The U of C, as a market player, simply made the decision that the price was right and made the offer."

Makes sense. Barriers to entry for several of the more lucrative/prestigious guilds, including that of law professors, have been rising for decades and could use some loosening for a variety of reasons.
7.30.2008 5:07pm
Perseus (mail):
Perseus points out that it's a well known impossibility to look at peoples' background and talents and predict that an association now could reap benefits later.

Never happens.

And I am heartened by the fact that no one is using is thread to bash Obama. That would be silly.


As the story indicated, the offer was made partly because it was thought that Obama's national political career was dead in the water. So it's unlikely that being associated with someone who might become a prominent national figure weighed much in their calculations.

As for using this thread to bash (or to defend) Senator Obama, any thread that mentions him will invariably result in that. But who is arguing that the U of C's hiring practices in and of themselves (rather than his lack of scholarly publications) are evidence of his alleged intellectual shortcomings?

Also, you don't understand modern academia and its publish or perish nature very well if you think that it wouldn't throw many academics into a fit of indignation and envy to see someone offered tenure at a top-ranked R1 institution with zero publications ten years after completing his degree.
7.30.2008 5:22pm
DWAnderson (www):
The most likely explanation is that he was offered a tenure track position rather than tenure. TNR alluded to this somewhat ambiguously in their similar recent article about Obama at Chicago.

That states the following:


Meeting with Obama in the main lounge at the University of Chicago Law School, where Fischel was then dean and Obama was a part-time senior lecturer, Fischel offered Obama some unsolicited advice. "I told him that it was obvious his political career was going nowhere," Fischel recalls, "and that he really ought to think about doing something else." The particular "something else" Fischel had in mind was a full-time tenured professorship


That phrasing leaves open the possibility that the tenured professionship was something Obama should think about doing rather that a concrete offer.

I suspect that is what the Times is referring to, albeit carelessly.
7.30.2008 5:31pm
DavidBernsten (mail):
Been gone all day. Interesting no one has raised the possibiity that this all reflects well on Obama: he knew that publishing (a lot and of very high quality) was standard for tenured professors, he had done any, didn't plan to do any, and didn't want to be a "fish out of water" on the faculty, there under unique criteria.
7.30.2008 5:41pm
Anderson (mail):
Obama is black, clean and articulate. Of course he should be President of the United States - the ultimate in affirmative actions. How could we conservatives be so misguided?

Well, I'm glad to have made a convert. Four more at this blog, and I get my toaster from the Obama campaign!
7.30.2008 5:47pm
Anderson (mail):
Over at Balkinization, I see exactly the kind of reasoning that a UC tenure committee could love:

Law schools are predominantly financed by student tuition payments, yet a significant proportion of their expenditures do not directly benefit students, but rather support faculty research. Moreover, faculty research increasingly tends to be remote from law schools' pedagogic role. Thus that great bete noir of economists the cross-subsidy seems to be operating in force - students are paying for something that does not benefit them, and they are being compelled to do so by means of an intra-institutional transfer that they cannot control. This would appear to correspond to most people's notion of unfairness.
7.30.2008 5:51pm
Anderson (mail):
Interesting no one has raised the possibiity that this all reflects well on Obama: he knew that publishing (a lot and of very high quality) was standard for tenured professors, he had done any, didn't plan to do any, and didn't want to be a "fish out of water" on the faculty, there under unique criteria.

Good point. I had been thinking that he smelled the affirmative-action aspect of the offer, and wasn't really interested in being the Token Underqualified Black Professor; but I think his political ambitions seem like the most obvious major reason for declining.

If UC *did* offer him instant tenure, they must've felt like they were being absurdly generous, and his refusal to be so honored cannot have sat very well with them.
7.30.2008 5:55pm
r78:
Given that only 8 years later Obama will likely become the next president of the United States, I would think that one would applaud U of C's ability to spot talent.

Unless one were jealous or just looking for reasons to badmouth Obama, that is.
7.30.2008 6:20pm
Brett:
I think what fascinates me most about this thread is the argument, by folks like neurodoc, that Occam's Razor weighs on the side of Obama getting this extraordinary offer from Chicago because he's Just That Freaking Amazing, despite the complete absence of any evidence that he's in any way remarkable outside of (a) the details of his personal story and (b) his ability to work a room.

I'm increasingly persuaded that there's something to that Reality Distortion Field comment, above.
7.30.2008 6:27pm
Anderson (mail):
the complete absence of any evidence that he's in any way remarkable outside of (a) the details of his personal story and (b) his ability to work a room.

Brett: try reading the whole thread, or Randy Barnett's post. You should get at least a whole (c) to add.
7.30.2008 6:30pm
Brett:
Anderson, I've read the whole thread, and Randy Barnett's post. I see no cause to add a (c). I don't share Randy's or Akhil Amar's views that Obama's exam questions reflect stupendous pedagogical aptitude; I find them rather pedestrian, in fact, compared to what my ConLaw professor served up.
7.30.2008 6:41pm
James Lindgren (mail):
Someone raised CJ John Roberts.

I have read one of John Roberts' scholarly publications, which grew out of a speech. Part of it involved an empirical study he did of oral argument questioning. It was exceptionally well written, as are B. Obama's non-scholarly books. And the research seemed sound. Even though written in an essay style (I later asked Roberts about the details of his sampling), Roberts' essay showed genuine research. So I know he has published at least one scholarly piece.

As I said, I may well have favored a tenured offer to Obama if I were on the Chicago faculty, but it would have been highly unusual.
7.30.2008 6:50pm
Perseus (mail):
Given that only 8 years later Obama will likely become the next president of the United States, I would think that one would applaud U of C's ability to spot talent.

The problem is that the U of C apparently thought that his national political career was going nowhere fast and that he would make a good academic scholar. Wrong on both counts. So, lucky is more like it.
7.30.2008 7:00pm
James Lindgren (mail):
I participated in hiring decisions with Randy Barnett when we were at Chicago Kent. My interpretation of Randy's comments is that he believes that the materials display genuine smarts and show an unusual and admirable open-mindedness, but by themselves they do not make clear that Obama has any great scholarly ideas to put forward. So these materials would be a big plus in any hiring decision, but would not answer questions about the worth of his scholarly agenda or about the strength of his commitment to publish.

BTW, the idea that turning down a tenured Chicago offer was strange is itself strange. I would be surprised if the offer did not carry with it an expectation that he would be full-time at the Law School.

Being a law professor is a great job, but for someone as politically ambitious as Obama, it is far from the best one he could get eventually. Obama has more fame, power, and money (through his book contract) than he could ever have gotten if he had become a full-time law professor.

Win or lose -- and I think he will win -- Obama will be able to use that fame and power to move the world in his direction.
7.30.2008 7:02pm
Michael F. Martin (mail) (www):
"Obama will be able to use that fame and power to move the world in his direction."

I think that Obama's genius is in realizing that power and fame cannot be used to move the world in his direction. Power and fame derive from finding and pointing out the way the world can and should move before others are capable or willing.
7.30.2008 7:44pm
Hoosier:
" "And, yes, I think McCain is as smart as Obama."

Got any evidence for this? "

Do I have anyevidence that I think McCain is as smart as Obama? Sure. Just look at any of my previous posts on the subject. You can rest assured that I do think so.
7.30.2008 9:55pm
LM (mail):
The Ace:

Got any evidence for this? Last I heard, McCain thinks Iraq borders Pakistan. That wasn't a mere slip of the tongue, either.

And Obama didn't know which Senate Committee he sat on and said there were 57 states.

Either you think it's persuasive to compare apples to oranges or you don't know what "slip of the tongue" means.
7.30.2008 10:50pm
LM (mail):
sbron:

I think advocates for AA should remember [...]

Today it is Obama's turn, but whose turn will it be tommorow? As long as preferences are allowed, some group will always be discriminated against.

Unless I missed the news that McCain is spotting Obama 30 or 40 electoral votes, how is it Obama's turn today?
7.30.2008 10:55pm
SukieTawdry (mail):
Is that Obama is one of those "incredibly gifted people" who "can make sufficient contributions to the law school" for whom faculties should make room even when they "aren't especially interested in writing law review articles" also a given?
7.30.2008 11:23pm
Mama73 (mail):
O.K., this isn't really about Obama, but it ticks me off:

"And before he posed what may be the ultimate test of racial equality — whether Americans will elect a black president..."

Ah...the MSM, if we don't elect him president we are all racist schmucks you realize.
7.30.2008 11:25pm
LM (mail):
SukieTawdry (mail):

Is that Obama is one of those "incredibly gifted people" who "can make sufficient contributions to the law school" for whom faculties should make room even when they "aren't especially interested in writing law review articles" also a given?

No. We have to take the UC Law School's word for it. And between you and me, until Obama wears a flag lapel pin every day, I see no reason to believe UC Law School knows a gifted professor when they see one.
7.30.2008 11:32pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"I think what fascinates me most about this thread is the argument, by folks like neurodoc, that Occam's Razor weighs on the side of Obama getting this extraordinary offer from Chicago because he's Just That Freaking Amazing, despite the complete absence of any evidence that he's in any way remarkable outside of (a) the details of his personal story and (b) his ability to work a room."


I'll repeat what I think I said in another thread: You obviously haven't read the man's books. He is an extremely talented writer. That kind of skill with words is a good indicator of intelligence in other areas.

Second, you underestimate the importance of "the ability to work a room." Other people call this "charisma", and Obama has gobs of it. That is absolutely crucial to the ability to govern, where nearly everything depends on one's ability to gain the support of others.

Witness Clinton's ability to "work a room" (not that I agree with his policy decisions.)
7.30.2008 11:47pm
James Lindgren (mail):
Obama was not voted tenure by the Chicago law faculty.

Perhaps the offer was contingent on faculty approval, which would have been an uphill battle.
7.30.2008 11:49pm
ed (mail) (www):
Hmmmm.

"Given that only 8 years later Obama will likely become the next president of the United States, I would think that one would applaud U of C's ability to spot talent."

Considering that Obama's chance to be President along with the tenure offer were based largely on his black skin.

I rather think talent actually has nothing to do with it.

Consider this: What is the one situation that Obama avoids at all costs?

Any speaking role that doesn't involve a teleprompter.

That is not indicative of *talent*.
7.30.2008 11:53pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"Any speaking role that doesn't involve a teleprompter."


Really?

And let me guess - you're voting for McCain?
7.31.2008 12:11am
Hoosier:
LM: "Either you think it's persuasive to compare apples to oranges or you don't know what "slip of the tongue" means."

Obama makes gaffes more frequently than some people might want to admit. Naming no names of course.

Can you clarify how those of us without the Barack Obama is the Secnd Coming Secret Decoder Ring are supposed to know which are "gaffes" and which are "mere slips of the tongue"?

Or are just supposed to KNOW that Obama knows all?
7.31.2008 12:35am
LM (mail):
Right, Ed. The obvious upshot of this story is that Obama has no talent. Zippo. Nada.

Does anyone really believe that? I'm dying to know. Speak, please. I'll tell no one. I promise.
7.31.2008 12:52am
LM (mail):
Hoosier,

If it's really your opinion that Obama believed there are 57 states and he's chairman of that committee, I withdraw my comment in advance.
7.31.2008 12:58am
LM (mail):
I suppose that should be "retroactively in advance."
7.31.2008 1:00am
stunned:
So what's the upshot, conspirators? EV is apparently prepared to believe the whole thing was based solely on the color of his skin and not, say, what the faculty perceived his potential as a scholar to be based on his years of service to the university. Because that sort of reasoning would make too much sense in light of the fact that UC could grab any of the, admittedly few, black professors at less well-regarded schools who were producing scholarship (however mediocre it might have been). Are the rest of you on board with that interpretation? Does anyone want to take a differing interpretation?

Also: how would your reactions have been different if it was, e.g., NYU that had offered him a tenured position?
7.31.2008 1:35am
neurodoc:
Brett, would you be so kind as to point to any comment(s) of mine in the course of this thread that relied on that Occam guy and/or his Razor for support?

And when you say there is a "complete absence of any evidence that he's in any way remarkable outside of (a) the details of his personal story and (b) his ability to work a room," do you mean to include graduating HLS magna cum laude as one of those "details of his personal story," or in your view is that not evidence "that he's in any way remarkable" other than for your #1 and #2 reasons?

Finally, if Obama is so singularly unimpressive in your eyes, would you tell us which candidates for public office, if any, have ever impressed you positively?
7.31.2008 1:42am
neurodoc:
Brett, perhaps I misunderstood. Were you referring to Will Occam, who lived so long ago, or Nick Occam, who is alive today, or at least seems to have been at 11:12 AM?

Will, whose Razor I have made of use of on occasion, was well before my time. I suspect that Nick, who I don't think I have ever met, is not really named either Nick or Occam, but has taken "Nick Occam," as a playful nom de plume.
7.31.2008 2:07am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
Orin, thanks for your helpful reply.

HLR does not have signed student works, for Presidents or others.


That's what I thought. Nevertheless, we see comments that seem to suggest otherwise. Here's an example (from another thread):

[Obama] had never published (even as a student law review member and editor) any scholarly research whatsoever


That commenter seems to be implying that Obama, as HLR president, would be expected to publish "scholarly research" in HLR. That sounded fishy to me, so I appreciate this chance to get a better handle on how this works.
7.31.2008 2:28am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
perseus:

Their calculus was made before he became a major national figure (around 2000 just after he was badly defeated in a race for a seat in Congress).


I think he received fairly major national coverage when he became the first black president of HLR. FWIW.
7.31.2008 2:28am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
ace:

he successfully inserted an earmark for the hospital his wife worked at


No, he did not do so "successfully." He made the request but it was not approved by congress.
7.31.2008 2:28am
Perseus (mail):
I think he received fairly major national coverage when he became the first black president of HLR. FWIW.

True, though I was getting at his figure as a national political mover and shaker, which Obama was aiming to become and which the dean apparently thought was a dim prospect. I will also say that despite my opposition to him becoming president, I do not believe that his lack of scholarly publications demonstrates anything meaningful about his intelligence or ability to be president. It only casts serious doubt in my mind about whether he would have been a productive scholar comparable to his colleagues at Chicago.
7.31.2008 2:47am
SIG357:
A job for Michelle Obama directing the legal clinic.

The patronage jobs showered on his wife, including her current position, seem to deserve a lot more attention that they receive. Does anyone doubt that what is being bought are not skills, but political influence?
7.31.2008 10:23am
SIG357:
Although the Obamians are up in arms as always, this seems to be more a criticism of UC than of the Messiah.
7.31.2008 10:26am
SIG357:
The man is an extremely talented writer. That kind of language skill is a pretty good indicator of other kinds of intelligence.


Then lets make Stephen King the President of the United States.

Really, you thought that Obama's self-centered navel gazing was the mark of an extremely talanted writer?
7.31.2008 10:34am
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
Excellent writing is not necessarily evidence that someone will be a great or even an adequate president. Grant's memoirs are so well-written that he was suspected of having them ghost-written by Mark Twain, but he's generally considered to have been a mediocre president at best. When it comes to scholarship, it's hard to beat the annotated translation of Georgius Agricola's great Renaissance Latin work on mining and metallurgy, De Re Metallica. Coauthoring the translation with his wife may make Herbert Hoover a distinguished scholar, but it didn't make him even an adequate president.
7.31.2008 10:47am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
Does anyone doubt that what is being bought are not skills, but political influence?


Good point. After all, why would anyone think that a person with degrees from Princeton and Harvard was hired for their "skills?" Obviously, Michelle is not qualified for any job outside of McDonalds, and any job she holds elsewhere is therefore proof that Obama "is being bought."

the Obamians are up in arms


That's funny. The one who is "up in arms" is you, over the startling fact Michelle Obama has held jobs commensurate with her education.
7.31.2008 11:26am
David Warner:
"When it comes to scholarship, it's hard to beat the annotated translation of Georgius Agricola's great Renaissance Latin work on mining and metallurgy, De Re Metallica. Coauthoring the translation with his wife may make Herbert Hoover a distinguished scholar, but it didn't make him even an adequate president."

Hoover a Metallica fan? Who knew?

Don't tell the L.A. Times, or they might stop rockin'...
7.31.2008 12:41pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
Excellent writing is not necessarily evidence that someone will be a great or even an adequate president


True. But when someone talks like this, it might be evidence that they are likely to be the worst president in history.
7.31.2008 12:51pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
Really, you thought that Obama's self-centered navel gazing was the mark of an extremely talanted writer?


Tell it to that commie moonbat Lindgren, who just said this:

Barack Obama is smart enough and writes well enough to be a tenured law professor at any law school in the country. I wish I wrote as well.


But I think we all know the really "talanted" writer is you.
7.31.2008 12:58pm
Chester White (mail):

How do we know that Obama did not have other, even better offers, than the one from U of C in his pocket in 2000, and that turning it down struck him as no big deal? Maybe he had a fallback if his political career did not take off. He's certainly got some wealthy friends from way back.


--

"You can't magically create good black law professors out of thin air. You need:
a) a black person with the desire to go to law school and eventually become a professor
b) that same black person needs to have the ability to excel at law school, get published and eventually get hired by a law school
c) time and effort on the part of that person to make it happen"

AND d) you have to be able to attract him/her against the hundreds of other offers that will come flooding in from all directions. This is not a trivial problem.

--

"The patronage jobs showered on his wife, including her current position, seem to deserve a lot more attention that they receive. Does anyone doubt that what is being bought are not skills, but political influence?"

My wife is a professor in the U of C Medical School. No one there I have ever heard of doubts AT ALL that Michelle Obama was hired for political reasons alone. Hell, the job itself is obviously political: "Vice President of Community Affairs." The U of C is intensely sensitive to complaints from the surrounding community, to the point of absurdity, and her job was unmistakably political.

Her increase in salary from $100K to $300K+ was almost coincident with his election to the Senate in 2004. What do you think was the reason? Does that sound like a merit increase to you?
7.31.2008 3:20pm
nonplussed:
The real question is why is your obsession (or if you prefer..envy, hatred, whatever) with Senator Obama to the point that you would waste this much space and mental processes on something that is entirely irrelevant at this time. Supposedly Senator Obama turned the offer down in 2000, what is the point? NEXT.
7.31.2008 7:55pm