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The University of Chicago Law Faculty Never Voted a Tenure Offer to Barack Obama.--

[UPDATE, 3:40pm Thursday:

I have now spoken or corresponded with 7 members of the University of Chicago law faculty, including several of the most powerful members of the faculty in the 1998-2003 period. For each year in that period, I believe that I have spoken to at least one from the following group of people who would know if Barack Obama had been vetted for an appointment with immediate tenure: appointments chair, appointments committee member, or dean. I have been purposely inclusive in this list to avoid identifying my sources.

None of the 7 Chicago law faculty I interviewed or corresponded with were consulted about an Obama tenured offer, none of them remember any discussion of hiring Obama with immediate tenure, and some of them couldn't believe that anyone would even attempt such a move, since it would have been a "nonstarter." If Obama had been vetted by the faculty before he was approached about an offer with immediate tenure, every member of the apppointments committee that year would be likely to remember it. I suspect that the group least likely to believe the story that the Chicago faculty was consulted and favored a tenured offer to Barack Obama is the University of Chicago Law School faculty.

I should say that two very prominent members of the faculty emailed me to express their doubt that a tenured offer had ever been vetted with the faculty. Both are campaign donors to Obama. My own supposition is that they supported my reporting because they did not want the academic public to get the wrong idea about Chicago's tenure standards. One prominent faculty member wrote me that he had not been consulted by Dan Fischel about a tenured offer for Obama, "nor does [Dan] recall the whole thing with any certainty."

Dan was a law school classmate of mine and a great dean at Chicago, and he is one of the most brilliant and influential law and economics scholars ever. I think his memory just failed him this time (as it sometimes does for many of us).

Many non-academic readers of this blog may not have understood why this was such an implausible story in the first place. In any event, now I've talked to enough Chicago faculty that this story can be safely put to bed.]

+++++++++++++++++

In an otherwise superb story in the New York Times on Barack Obama's experience as a law teacher at the University of Chicago, Jodi Kantor reports that "the faculty . . . made him its best offer yet: Tenure upon hiring":

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.

I have now talked to four members of the University of Chicago law faculty, including at least one of Obama's campaign donors, and all four of them say that they do not remember voting Barack Obama a tenured or tenure-track offer. When I asked whether they remembered the Faculty Appointments Committee in the 2000-2002 era sending out an appointments file recommending a tenured or tenure-track appointment, all said No. Nor do these members of the faculty remember their being part of any discussion whether to grant tenure to Obama. As some of them explained procedures at Chicago, the dean does not have the power to make an actual offer of tenure without a faculty vote.

All thought that a tenure-track offer might well have been approved if it had been brought to the faculty. All expressed doubt whether the faculty would have made a tenured offer; one professor stated emphatically that it never would have happened, which of course is just one person's opinion. According to those I spoke with, a tenured offer would have been problematic because — despite his intelligence, teaching ability, and success in law school — Barack Obama may not have had any scholarly publications (at least they were not aware of any).

A dean's negotiating a tentative deal before bringing it to the faculty for consideration would not have been unusual. In any event, none of the four Chicago law faculty I interviewed believes that the law faculty voted to make Barack Obama a tenured offer or that the dean was ever authorized by the faculty to do so.

I was also told that Jodi Kantor of the Times has been informed of the probable error. Without more reporting, however, it's unclear how the error arose (and thus, if I were Kantor, I'd want to nail this down before correcting online). [Kantor confirms that the faculty never voted Obama tenure and clarifies what her sources told her in an update below.] Among the many possibilities are that the dean of the law school made Obama a tenured or an untenured offer, contingent on the faculty's agreement, and either a reporter misunderstood or one of the principals misremembered.

One additional issue that has been raised in comments on the Volokh Conspiracy is whether Barack Obama published an unsigned student note or comment when he was on the Harvard Law Review. Although I was unable to get a definitive answer, one faculty member told me that he had asked another faculty member close to Obama whether Obama had published such a note or comment; the faculty member close to Obama replied that he was not aware of any.

UPDATE: Jodi Kantor has already clarified the story she was told here (scroll down to 3:48pm):

Several readers have asked questions about Mr. Obama's status at the school. Let me clarify: he started teaching as a lecturer, meaning as a member of the adjunct faculty. But in 1996, he was promoted to senior lecturer, which in Chicago's parlance, made him a professor.

When the law school tried to hire Mr. Obama after his failed 2000 congressional race, it was for a tenured job, according to Daniel Fischel, the dean at the time. In our interview, I asked him if he meant "tenure-track," and he said no. "He would be hired as a tenured professor," he explained. The faculty would vote, but Mr. Obama already had their support, he added.

This confirms my claim that "The University of Chicago Law Faculty Never Voted a Tenure Offer to Barack Obama." And, as I sort of expected, Kantor's account, though not quite correct, was based on something she had been told.

What does not square with what I was told by all four faculty members I interviewed, some of them very much "inside the loop," is Dan Fischel's statement that "Mr. Obama already had their [the faculty's] support . . . ." Dan may well have run it by some faculty members, but significant members of the faculty had never heard of the idea, let alone expressed their support for it.

James Lindgren (mail):
Please be civil in your comments.
7.30.2008 11:35pm
Anderson (mail):
That certainly seems like something the faculty would remember -- perhaps we will get a correction in the NYT next week ....
7.30.2008 11:43pm
cathyf:
I would be interested to find out when was the last time that UC made an offer-with-tenure to a candidate who did not already have tenure at another institution.

(During WWII, college enrollments were cut in half nationwide. Many institutions barely survived. I know of one that moved all of their remaining students into a few rooming houses and turned over virtually their entire campus to the navy as a training center, for example. Most colleges suspended faculty hiring and put off tenure decisions for the faculty that they had hired. UC's math department went out and poached all the best mathematicians of that generation who were in this "distressed" position, offering them jobs with tenure. By the end of they war, they had the best math department in the world.)

It is one thing to "free-ride" off of the "vetting" and "trial period" that other institutions do by hiring away their tenured people, or like the WWII-era UC math department, by hiring away people that those other institutions should have tenured. Harvard is famous for refusing tenure to virtually all of their "tenure-track" hires, while giving tenure to the "superstar" hires when they poach (already-tenured) folks who have made their reputations at other universities. It is quite another to hire someone without anyone vetting them. And Obama with no publications was not vetted.
All thought that a tenure-track offer might well have been approved if it had been brought to the faculty.
The usual advantage given in these cases would be a tenure-track offer with 2, 3 or maybe 4 years constructive credit (which means the tenure decision would be in 4, 3, or 2 years rather than the canonical 6.) Perhaps the dean thought that this was close enough? Or the journalist didn't understand the distinction?
7.30.2008 11:48pm
Anderson (mail):
(Oh, and I meant to add: Thanks for the legwork, sir!)
7.30.2008 11:50pm
Perseus (mail):
All expressed doubt whether the faculty would have made a tenured offer; one professor stated emphatically that it never would have happened, which of course is just one person's opinion. According to those I spoke with, a tenured offer would have been problematic because — despite his intelligence, teaching ability, and success in law school — Barack Obama may not have had any scholarly publications (at least they were not aware of any).

This is just sort of the response one would expect from most faculty at a top-ranked R1 institution. I likewise salute you for your legwork.
7.31.2008 12:02am
Matthew K:
There is a quote from the Dean saying that he told Obama to take the offer on the ground that Obama's political career was dead. I imagine that the Dean was also a source on the content of the offer; it would be rather strange if that was not the case. I suspect that the Dean was making a preliminary offer (i.e. "if you want this I'll get approval") and either he failed to convey that to the reporter or the reporter misunderstood.
7.31.2008 12:09am
MarkNY (mail):
Isn't strange that Obama was elected president of the Harvard Law Review if he didn't hace a published note?
7.31.2008 12:10am
Daryl Herbert (www):
How long until we find out that Obama has actually written a great deal of legal scholarship, but it's all classified because he was writing "torture memos" for Dick Cheney?
7.31.2008 12:18am
DavidBernsten (mail):
Thanks for the additional information, Jim. It's not unheard of for a dean to make promises to a candidate or potential candidate that he can't deliver on.
7.31.2008 12:30am
runape (mail):
Kantor already confirmed on nytimes.com that the offer was, in fact, tenure on acceptance.

Your post is ambiguous as to whether you were already aware of this or mentioned it to the individuals with whom you spoke. In any case, it would appear that the former dean made an offer without consulting with the faculty; that your anonymous sources are ill informed; or that someone's memory is faulty.
7.31.2008 12:31am
DavidBernsten (mail):
The dean can't make an offer, especially a tenured offer, without the faculty's consent. He can, however, tell a potential candidate that if the person is willing to be a candidate he can assure him that the faculty will vote him a tenured offer. That doesn't mean, however, that the faculty will in fact go along.
7.31.2008 12:38am
runape (mail):
"Dan may well have run it by some faculty members, but significant members of the faculty had never heard of the idea, let alone expressed their support for it."

Ill-informed comments bashing Fischel as a pinko communist in 3...2...1...
7.31.2008 12:38am
Hoosier:
Jim Lindgren: This makes more sense that the way it was reported.

I've seen offers by a dean get shot down by the faculty before. One assumes the dean knew how the faculty would respond (?).
7.31.2008 12:39am
Perseus (mail):
It's not unheard of for a dean to make promises to a candidate or potential candidate that he can't deliver on.

But how unusual is it for a dean at this sort of school to promise an offer that includes tenure to a potential candidate with no scholarly publications?
7.31.2008 12:41am
neurodoc:
So, in light of what reporter Kantor had to say at 3:48 PM today, ought "in an otherwise superb story" be amended to "in a superb story"? Why should "otherwise" remain there?
7.31.2008 12:43am
James Lindgren (mail):
runape:

I did not mention it to the professors I spoke with, because I had not seen Kantor's update. I saw it and updated the post above just before you posted your comment above.

All Chicago professors I interviewed had already seen the the NY Times article, noticed the claim, and considered it in error before I spoke with them. One had already notified Kantor earlier that day that the faculty had never made any such offer to Obama, a note that might have prompted her response.
7.31.2008 12:45am
James Lindgren (mail):
neurodoc:

The NYT story said that the faculty made Obama an offer.

That was untrue.

The faculty never made such an offer or voted on such an offer or was even informed of the intention to make such an offer.

Because of confidentiality promises, I know more than I can say on this issue.
7.31.2008 12:51am
runape (mail):
"The faculty never made such an offer or voted on such an offer or was even informed of the intention to make such an offer."

Strictly speaking, all you have established is that 4 members of the faculty did not vote on such an offer, or were not informed of the intention to make such an offer, or can't remember the vote or the intention. Or they or you are lying. And all the Times has established is that the Dean says that such an offer was made, or the former Dean has a faulty memory, or he is lying, or the Times reporter is lying.

To boot, you are relying on 4 anonymous sources and are arguing in favor of your politically preferred outcome, while the Times is relying on just 1 source and is also arguing in favor of its politically preferred outcome.

Color me unconvinced that anyone has the full and correct version. Hopefully Obama will weigh in. (And hopefully Epstein will be publicly vindicated - he's a nut, but a much nicer guy than the quotes made him sound.)
7.31.2008 1:00am
Order of the Coif:
Affirmative action in action.
7.31.2008 1:07am
unhyphenatedconservative (mail):
I don't claim to really understand academia and tenure, as I'm private sector and thus can never aspire to the nearly unfireable position. But from my friends on that route, tenure is huge. So if the article screwed that up, isn't it pretty major? Can it be "otherwise superb" if they screwed that up?

At least according to California jury instructions, if one part of the witness' testimony is false, no matter how small the issue, the fact finders can then find all other aspects untrustworthy. Why shouldn't this hagiography of Obama receive the same presumption?
7.31.2008 1:20am
James Lindgren (mail):
As some commenters to David Bernstein's post may not have fully appreciated, what struck Bernstein, Volokh, Kerr, Barnett, and myself was how odd an actual tenured offer would have been for the U. of Chicago to have made to Obama (with no scholarship).

What was extraordinary and hard for most of us to understand was the behavior of the Chicago faculty in voting a tenured offer, not anything the amazingly talented Obama did or did not do. It's hard to imagine how the discussion would even have proceeded.

Now it turns out that the faculty never voted a tenured offer, and influential members of the faculty doubt that such an offer would ever have been made. Since the faculty operates on consensus, it doesn't take too much faculty opposition to block an appointment at Chicago.
7.31.2008 1:20am
Dave N (mail):
runape,

You are ignoring the most likely possibility, as expressed by several posters: The dean made the offer but he never presented it to the faculty. He may have spoken to a colleague or two ("Say, Bill, will you support me on this offer?) but not to the faculty at large.

This does not make either the New York Times or Professor Lindgren liars--or any of their sources, for that matter.
7.31.2008 1:21am
unhyphenatedconservative (mail):
Dave N,
If someone said a tenured offer was made and it was not, then someone is lying. Either the Dean said such an offer was made and it was not because of the rules of the campus. That would be akin to me taking an "offer" from a client because I thought the idea was super duper awesome, except for the minor fact that the client was never briefed and never authorized it.

Or perhaps the faculty members, upon hearing the incredulity of questioners that they offered such a position to the Obsiah without his engaging in scholarly publishing are now denying the offer.

But as reported, something stinks.
7.31.2008 1:34am
runape (mail):
"You are ignoring the most likely possibility, as expressed by several posters: The dean made the offer but he never presented it to the faculty."

No, I'm not; see 11:31 above. And I don't really think Jim is lying (or anyone else, for that matter). I was simply pointing out that the evidence points in different directions; and, particularly in light of the politically charged nature of the conversation and the fact that Jim's sources are (perhaps understandably) anonymous, I think any conclusions are premature.

I still don't understand why Jim and the others are so insistent that exceptions cannot be made to the ordinary tenure process - which many (perhaps most?) candid academics will admit is an anticompetitive policy ill suited to the profession. It would certainly be unusual, but I don't think so out of the realm of possibility as they make out.

There is, I think, a certain nostalgia amongst academics with respect to tenure. While many agree tenure can produce poor incentives, many also view the hiring process in an almost romantic light - a rite of passage they all had to go through. (Somewhat like the lawyers who enjoy telling war stories about their first year of law school.) And so the thought that one could advance in the field without going through the old rites is anathema.

But it's hard to prove with certainty that an alleged event did not transpire, and I don't think Jim is home yet.
7.31.2008 1:37am
James Lindgren (mail):
runape,

While you are right that the truth of this one might not be provable, I don't think it's quite fair to attribute the differences between Kantor in the Times and me as based on politics.

First, it would be hard to imagine a more politically fairly written piece than Kantor's (esp. in the Times). Everything she wrote rang as just right -- other than the offer story and over-emphasizing how conservative Chicago is.

A distinction that she thought unimportant turned out to be important to academics for what it said about scholarly standards at Chicago, the law school that in some eras was thought to have the highest tenure standards in the country. If Kantor left out a fact that some of us thought important, I don't think politics was the reason.

As to my comments, my concern is about Chicago, not Obama. As such, it really doesn't cut one way or another politically. And, as someone hinted above, Dan Fischel's politics are usually thought of as to the right of most of the VC contributors.

IMO, your comment about the romantic view of academics for scholarship and standards is much closer to the mark than the one about politics, which is one reason that I found it amusing that Bernstein, Volokh, Kerr, Barnett, and myself all noted how unusual was the story of a tenure offer to a young person without scholarly pubs.
7.31.2008 2:01am
PhanTom:
If someone said a tenured offer was made and it was not, then someone is lying.


Or someone is mistaken.

Merely because a statement at odds with the true historical facts has been uttered, does not mean that the statement is a lie.

--PtM
7.31.2008 2:07am
cathyf:
I still don't understand why Jim and the others are so insistent that exceptions cannot be made to the ordinary tenure process
Imagine that an enlisted man in the national guard, with 12 years of experience, was offered a promotion to major, and turned it down. A promotion that did not involve going to any sort of officers training, and did not mean starting as a lieutenant and being promoted up through the officers ranks -- starting as a major. And the only person who said that this offer was made was the general in charge of his brigade -- no other officer knows anything about it, the pentagon has no knowledge, even though a general absolutely does not have the authority to make such an offer. Do people here really believe that the US Army would make that sort of "exception to the normal process"?

That's the magnitude of the "exception" that people are claiming with this story. And furthermore, the UC isn't just any university, it's the Marines of academia -- arrogant and extremely jealously protective of their reputation for utter inflexibility in matters of intellectual standards. The story is simply astonishing and unbelievable.
7.31.2008 2:11am
Perseus (mail):
And so the thought that one could advance in the field without going through the old rites is anathema.

As an academic, I grant that I may be guilty of that. I will say, however, that the "old rite" of publishing scholarship has become much more demanding over the years at most institutions (even those with far less emphasis on research). That's why I regard it as exceptionally unusual for someone without a single publication ten years after completing his degree would be offered a tenured position at a place like Chicago.
7.31.2008 2:25am
Ricardo (mail):
What is so extraordinary about the claim of the tenure offer is that it allegedly came from the faculty which should raise suspicions and is almost certainly false.

Despite Obama's speaking and teaching skills, he was still someone in a non-tenure-track lecturer position, did not publish any original research and was not engaged with many faculty members and rarely showed up at faculty round-table discussions.

Given these facts, it would be extraordinary that the law faculty would get together on their own initiative and nearly all would spontaneously agree that this Obama guy who no one really talks to and never publishes is really hot stuff and that they had better make him a tenure offer before he gets poached by another top-notch law school. This almost certainly did not happen because if it did, every law professor at Chicago around at the time would have known about it and most would have had pretty strong opinions one way or the other.

In particular, the old saying about how getting professors to agree on anything is like herding cats is correct. Even if many faculty members were absolutely enamored of Obama, it would take only a few grouchy curmudgeons to torpedo a tenure discussion pretty quickly. You can count on grouchy curmudgeons existing in nearly every academic department.
7.31.2008 2:32am
Roger Schlafly (www):
So Obama is good enough to be President of the USA and the biggest celebrity in the world, but not good enough for the U of C law school?
7.31.2008 2:51am
Anon21:
I'm not even clear why it would be be Lindgren's "politically preferred outcome" that Obama not have received a tenured offer. I get that Lindgren opposes Obama politically, but I guess I'm not just seeing how this has any more than the very remotest relation to Obama's presidential campaign or political career more generally. The debate is rather esoteric, mostly of interest to those who are familiar with academia, and not particularly partisan, so far as I can tell.
7.31.2008 3:02am
Anon21:
Oh, charming. If I'd refreshed the page before posting, I could have seen Roger Schlafy put the hack partisan angle into action. Still, I doubt that was Lindgren's intent. And Roger, you may want to pay attention to the part where the various authoritative sources say no one in a similar position (very limited academic experience and no publications) would have been extended a tenured offer. This has nothing to do with Obama's own capabilities, unless you're tendentiously going to try to argue that Obama ought to have published something over a decade ago. Honestly, can you even conceive of this swaying or interesting other than anti-Obama partisans? Really?
7.31.2008 3:06am
one of many:
Come now M. Schafly while M. Obama may be qualified to president of the US (he's old enough and was born in the right place) it has yet to be determined if he is "good enough to be President of the USA", we'll find out that next January when the election takes place (the one that actually decides the president, the one in the electoral college although the November election will probably answer the question). Nor is it a question of whether or not he is "good enough" for U of C, he was good enough for U of C 14 years ago when they hired him to teach, the question is whether U of C would have granted him tenure based upon his record 8 years ago (when he wasn't "good enough" to be elected a US senator, much less president).
7.31.2008 3:36am
James Lindgren (mail):
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.

Even if he had never run for the US Senate, if Obama had written a couple of good law review articles (which he certainly could have done) and looked like he would write more, he would probably have made tenure easily.

But Obama chose politics instead.

Would the University of Chicago Law School today offer a tenured professorship to Bill Clinton, who is also very smart but probably not as good a writer?

Probably not. It certainly wouldn't be a slam dunk.
7.31.2008 4:15am
Bill Dyer (mail) (www):
I have been a harsh a critic of the New York Times and its reporting on political and legal topics. But I believe in credit where due, and Jodi Kantor is due lots.

I agree that her article, overall, is a damned good one. She found new material from grounds previously trod by lots of other journalists. Her writing was clear and accessible. She used a genuinely critical eye, without becoming either reflexively hostile or wholly adoring. Just those things put her at the top of her class, in my opinion.

But then she actually posted source materials on the internet for readers to review and comment upon!

And she lined up a diverse array of legal pundits to comment further on them!

And then -- in response to specific and entirely justified questions -- she not only failed to circle the wagons, she responded promptly and politely.

If she had had a background as a talent agent or a legal headhunter, perhaps she might have dug a bit further into the intra-faculty dynamics and state of knowledge at Chicago before publishing the "tenure on hiring" line. But she clearly grasped, understood, and explained the basic rules of the road: Tenure is important, and tenure almost never comes to those who haven't published.

The net result of all this has been to clear away most of the mysteries that had troubled at least some Obama observers about his connections to Chicago Law School. His supporters will continue to claim his teaching there as a significant credential for his presidential aspirations. His opponents will continue to mock that suggestion and stress how odd and politically calculating his actions were. But those are matters of subjective judgment, competing inferences drawn from a set of facts that are now, for the most part, well documented and undisputed.

That's just cool.

My hat's off to her. And to you, Prof. Lindgren, for your analysis and legwork, and to your fellow blogger Randy Barnett, for his analysis as well.
7.31.2008 4:35am
LM (mail):
I agree with Roger Schlafly. If a top law school won't beg you to accept tenure without making you write something, you've got no business running for President. If it were up to me that would go into the Constitution right next to "No Muslims."
7.31.2008 4:41am
gwinje:
I second Bill Dyer. It was an informative and thoughtful article and Jim Lindgren (and Barnett and the other Conspirators who have weighed in) have been as thought provoking and honest as Obama apparently was in his classes.

To me (a poor, dumb, arrogant 2L), this is much more about law school than politics. I wish he'd accepted*, given up full-time politics and published

I'm voting for Barack with a smile. I can't help but think, though, that we all missed out when he declined to get schooled by the masters. If he'd been arguing (and writing) with Epstein, Posner, Easterbrook and their peers for fifteen years, legal scholarship would be better for it. He probably would be too.

*assuming the dean made an offer he could back up.
7.31.2008 6:24am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
It would be nice to know what the Dean saw in the guy.
He was that good?
He had contacts the school could use?
He had something on the Dean (this is Chicago, after all, the machine, not the U)?
7.31.2008 6:48am
LM (mail):
Richard,

It would be nice to know what the Dean saw in the guy.

The one thing we know it can't be is,

"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." Jim Lindgren

... so it's an enigma, that's for sure.

There is this:

Mr. Obama arrived at the law school in 1991 thanks to Michael W. McConnell, a conservative scholar who is now a federal appellate judge. As president of The Harvard Law Review, Mr. Obama had impressed Mr. McConnell with editing suggestions on an article[...].

But that's just Mike McConnell. Who doesn't impress him?
7.31.2008 8:14am
DavidBernsten (mail):
There was a time when the editor-in-chief of the Harvard Law Review could basically walk into a Supreme Court clerkship and into a top tenure-track position. I don't know about the former, but the latter isn't true anymore. You need some writings, and, increasingly, a Ph.D. And the "old boy (and girl) network" also played a huge role in hiring at top schools. (Even today, the overlap among the entry-level candidates seriously considered by the top schools is remarkable, given that their c.v.s are often not obviously distinguishable from the next tier of candidates.) So, putting any affirmative action issues aside, there's nothing odd circa 1991 about Michael McConnell passing on a tip about the current HLR editor, and Chicago acting on it, nor would it have been odd if this would have resulting in a tenure-track (but not tenured) position after a "job talk", though the lack of clerkship would have been unusual.
7.31.2008 8:42am
Andy Freeman (mail):
> I still don't understand why Jim and the others are so insistent that exceptions cannot be made to the ordinary tenure process

No one has said that such exceptions can't be made. The question is whether an exception actually was made in this case.
7.31.2008 10:27am
SeaDrive:
This story starts of with "recollections" apparently not fortified with any check of paper records. Come back when you have something serious to work with.
7.31.2008 10:45am
Paul Zrimsek (mail):
If the hiring procedure was really as irregular as this post makes it sound, it's very odd that it doesn't appear to have caused any controversy within the law school at the time.
7.31.2008 10:50am
Anderson (mail):
If the hiring procedure was really as irregular as this post makes it sound, it's very odd that it doesn't appear to have caused any controversy within the law school at the time.

The feathers would have flown if Obama had accepted the dean's offer, and then the dean had gone to the faculty.

Obama's declining the offer kept the feathers from flying.
7.31.2008 10:58am
CJColucci:
Five posts and hundreds of comments have gone by, and it turns out that the only aspect of the story that raised any questions about anyone -- and then about the U of C rather than Obama -- seems unlikely to be true.
7.31.2008 11:35am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Addressing a different point than the ones the other commenters have raised:
One additional issue that has been raised in comments on the Volokh Conspiracy is whether Barack Obama published an unsigned student note or comment when he was on the Harvard Law Review. Although I was unable to get a definitive answer, one faculty member told me that he had asked another faculty member close to Obama whether Obama had published such a note or comment; the faculty member close to Obama replied that he was not aware of any.
Obama's own campaign has said no, according to a quote posted here yesterday from Ben LaBolt.
7.31.2008 11:38am
MartyA:
I think we are equating negotiating postures with written offers. From the above, it seems that Hussein got a ballpark package that included tenure and other goodies before authority for the package existed. The Dean would then go back to HR for detail work and then to the faculty for approval of the final text.
While Hussein's academic credentials were nonexistent, what leftish faculty in the country could turn down an articulate black who dresses up well, a Harvard Law editor, and his lovely (if not, bitter) wife who also graduated Harvard law and is also articulate and black? Oh, and we want him to have tenure and that large corner office from day one! One final thing, if we don't give Hussein this unusual package we all run the risk of being accused of racism!
So, I don't have a problem with details in this story. The key points are he wrote nothing while editor and that he's never publshed. Isn't that unusual for any law review?
7.31.2008 11:41am
cathyf:
it's very odd that it doesn't appear to have caused any controversy within the law school at the time.
I would think that it is causing controversy right now. Unless Jodi Kantor somehow misunderstood, then Fischel is guilty of either

1) making an unauthorized hire-with-tenure offer that he couldn't back up; or

2) slandering UC in the newspaper of hated New York; or

3) publicising the law school's heretofore hidden shameful activities, and in the newspaper of hated New York.

If Fischel were still dean (he is retired), this is the sort of thing that would make him not-the-dean.
7.31.2008 11:43am
Anderson (mail):
While Hussein's academic credentials were nonexistent, what leftish faculty in the country could turn down an articulate black who dresses up well, a Harvard Law editor, and his lovely (if not, bitter) wife who also graduated Harvard law and is also articulate and black?

Oy. I hope that pseudonym suffices to shield your identity, MartyA.
7.31.2008 11:49am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
tenure-schmenure... who cares?

I'd rather focus on the commie/maoist/voodoo religious/socialist rat company he kept to further his career in Chikago... coming to a government near you, soon.
7.31.2008 12:28pm
Kate S (mail):
Imagine that an enlisted man in the national guard, with 12 years of experience, was offered a promotion to major, and turned it down. A promotion that did not involve going to any sort of officers training, and did not mean starting as a lieutenant and being promoted up through the officers ranks -- starting as a major. And the only person who said that this offer was made was the general in charge of his brigade -- no other officer knows anything about it, the pentagon has no knowledge, even though a general absolutely does not have the authority to make such an offer. Do people here really believe that the US Army would make that sort of "exception to the normal process"?



Not to argue with your conclusion, which I believe is fundamentally correct, but there is a historical incidence of a Captain becoming a Genereal overnight, in a peacetime army, when he married a Senator's daughter. His name was John J. (Blackjack) Pershing.
7.31.2008 12:40pm
cathyf:
Yep, but a captain becoming a general is still an officer being promoted to officer. That's more like a tenure-track assistant professor being given tenure overnight and promoted to dean. That sort of thing would be pretty unusual, but a completely different order of magnitude unusual.
7.31.2008 12:57pm
runape (mail):
"While you are right that the truth of this one might not be provable, I don't think it's quite fair to attribute the differences between Kantor in the Times and me as based on politics."

Fair enough. You have been remarkably evenhanded in your treatment of Obama (certainly as compared to many commenters - and co-conspirators!).

I'm increasingly convinced that Fischel said something along the lines of, "Suppose we gave you tenure; would that be enough to keep you here?" A comment along those lines would be consistent with all of what has been reported - that the offer was tenure; that the faculty weren't in the loop (because they hadn't yet been consulted); that Obama wasn't "crazy" (I think that was one commenter's word) for turning down the offer (among other reasons, because it could reasonably be viewed as pandering); and so on.

I still think it likely that Fischel knew or believed with high probability that he could get the faculty behind him. (It would be odd to suppose that Fischel made the offer believing that he could not get the faculty behind him.) So I think the "herding cats" comments miss the mark.
7.31.2008 1:11pm
gwinje:
MartyA:

I'm not sure it would be a very good idea for you to speak outside the klan rally. These days we usually use "black" as an adjective.

Glenn:

He must have run with quite a diverse crowd to get commies, practitioners of voodoo, religious socialists and rats together for a pick up game.
7.31.2008 1:19pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
Roger Schlafly:

So Obama is good enough to be President of the USA and the biggest celebrity in the world, but not good enough for the U of C law school?


What is the evidence that Obama was "not good enough for the U of C law school?" Maybe you don't realize he taught there.
7.31.2008 1:45pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
David M. Nieporent:

Obama's own campaign has said no [that Obama never published an unsigned student note or comment when he was on the HLR], according to a quote posted here yesterday from Ben LaBolt.


What was posted here yesterday was not "a quote … from Ben LaBolt." Although you and Bill Dyer have both falsely said it is. What was posted here yesterday is an ambiguous, sloppy paraphrase, and it does not establish that Obama never published an unsigned student note or comment when he was on the HLR.

I already explained this, here. More details here.

Instead of popping up here to flog Dyer's disingenuous claims, you should be here, explaining your own large collection of disingenuous claims.
7.31.2008 1:45pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
MarkNY:

Isn't strange that Obama was elected president of the Harvard Law Review if he didn't hace a published note?


Isn't it strange that people like you and MartyA parrot Dyer's claims without lifting a finger to realize how distorted they are?

You don't know that Obama did not publish unsigned material in HLR. And you are overlooking the fact that HLR does not publish signed material by HLR members.
7.31.2008 1:45pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
MartyA:

The key points are he wrote nothing while editor and that he's never publshed.


The key point is that you're pretending that you know he never provided unsigned material to HLR, when in fact you don't actually know this.

Isn't that unusual for any law review?


What would be unusual would be for HLR to publish signed material by HLR members. It doesn't do that.
7.31.2008 1:45pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
David, speaking of disingenuous claims that you made in the other thread, it is particularly striking that in that long thread you never made even a pretense of addressing what I said here, documenting attempted deception on your part.
7.31.2008 1:51pm
Argus:
In none of the posts does anyone indicate any current or former connection with the University of Chicago. This leads me to suspect that what all of you know is based not on first-hand knowledge of that institution but on written or oral reports by people who may or may not be or have been so connected.

In her piece Ms. Kantor remarks: "For all the weighty material, Mr. Obama had a disarming touch. He did not belittle students; instead he drew them out, restating and polishing halting answers, students recall." Perhaps she takes as typical of a Chicago Law School faculty member the hectoring Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr. (played by John Houseman) of the TV series "The Paper Chase."

Implied is that [now] Sen. Obama differed from others teaching in the Law School. Here's how Saul Levmore, the current Dean describes the Law School: "[T]here is no faculty that takes its students' education so seriously and personally. This is not a place where great teachers are on leave. Rather, this is a place where teachers compete to teach you, choose to host reading groups in their living rooms, and look forward to talking with you over coffee, at "Wine Messes," in numerous workshops, and at informal events like dinners and bridge games." Such concern for and interest in their students have been hallmarks of Law School faculty for years.

Faculty are also committed to the life of the mind and combine with their teaching the pursuit of ideas, which they share with an audience wider than the classroom through publications. Sen. Obama's lack of publications at the time of his hiring and during his time as a faculty member could not possibly spoken in his favor as a candidate for tenure.

I'm a graduate of the U of C and remember (again a written report, no sources cited) several tenure-related incidents during my time there. I do not recall their having been mentioned in the Trib or the Sun-Times, which I read regularly as my house in the residence halls had a subscription, but I do remember discussing them with colleagues and reading about some incidents in the student newspaper, the Maroon. Although I do not have an archive of Maroons, perhaps the paper has a morgue, where one could find reporting on some, at least, of the other tenure incidents.

Of course, the Maroon would have carried nothing about the Obama appointment to the Law School faculty, much less anything about its circumstances. As to tenure at Chicago in general, there is, however, a discussion of tenure questions and processes in one of the "Occasional Papers on Higher Education" written by John W. Boyer, Martin A. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of History and Dean of the College. Alas, I haven't that particular volume to hand.

In some cases, indeed, whether tenure should be or have been granted has been a burning question. I recall having had discussions about them with colleagues and my adviser. As some of those posting have remarked, faculty involvement is and has been such an integral part of the tenure process at Chicago that it boggles the mind that a Chicago Dean could have made any such offer without having taken into account its effect on faculty. At the least he would have surely run his thought by Gerhard Casper, then the University's Provost and chief academic officer.

Now, none of the posts has mentioned who was Dean of the Law School at the time of Sen. Obama's appointment. It was Geoffrey Stone, who was appointed Dean in 1987, continuing in that position until he was appointed Provost in 1993. Why not put his name into play, do a little research, and consider what his conduct is likely to have been during his tenure as Dean, especially at the time of Sen. Obama's appointment. After all, we're told that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.

Interesting article, stimulating posts. I look forward to the next installments.
7.31.2008 2:03pm
cathyf:
jukeboxgrad, it's still fair to say that Obama has not publicly claimed any academic publications as his own. Whether that is because he hasn't written any, or because he prefers that what he has written remain anonymous, the point is that if he were to become a tenure-track UC professor rather than an adjunct, he would have to publish academically in order to be tenured.
7.31.2008 2:09pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
David, speaking of disingenuous claims that you made in the other thread, it is particularly striking that in that long thread you never made even a pretense of addressing what I said here, documenting attempted deception on your part.
I see you're pulling the crap again of continuing to beat a horse long after it has dead and has scrolled off the page, and then stalking me to whine that people stop paying attention to you. Unlike you, I have a job. If you're going to post 73 posts all saying the same thing, most of them partisan hackery of the highest order, I am not going to keep reading the thread forever.

You like to repeat yourself over and over again, spreading FUD left and right. You may pretend not to know whether Obama published in HLR. The rest of us are not obligated to cater to your delusions. (Hint: "unsigned" does not mean "secret.")
7.31.2008 2:23pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
You don't know that Obama did not publish unsigned material in HLR.
Yes, we do.
And you are overlooking the fact that HLR does not publish signed material by HLR members.
No, we're not.
7.31.2008 2:24pm
cathyf:
Argus, I was a UC undergrad, I am married to a UC PhD, and I have been a faculty wife at several institutions, none of which come close to UC levels of intellectual self-importance. Unless UC is a radically different place than when I was there a quarter century ago, a job-with-tenure (as opposed to tenure-track) for someone without any academic publications to his name is simply unthinkable. Even in a UC "professional school". (Yes, at UC people talk about the law school and the business school with the curled-lip sneer of "vo-tech" training. I told you they yield to no one when it comes to snide arrogance!)
7.31.2008 2:25pm
HLS Alum:
Somewhat of a tangent, but at a Harvard Law School alumni award ceremony in 2005 at which Obama was the guest of honor, Dean Elena Kagan told the crowd how Harvard attempted to poach Obama from Chicago. Now, she could have been embellishing for the sake of the occasion, but if she wasn't, it indicates that Obama was for some reason a coveted commodity, at least between those institutions (Chicago and Harvard) that knew him best.
7.31.2008 3:12pm
R Gould-Saltman (mail):
Sez DB:

"It's not unheard of for a dean to make promises to a candidate or potential candidate that he can't deliver on."


. . . or for that matter,for the president or Chancellor to make an offer and then retract it; ask Erwin C....
7.31.2008 3:13pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
cathyf:

it's still fair to say that Obama has not publicly claimed any academic publications as his own.


True. The statement you just made is honest. The other statements I'm highlighting are not. Those statements tell us little or nothing about Obama, but they tell us a lot about the dishonesty of the people who make them. Since Bill Dyer and David M. Nieporent are clearly in a position to know better.

the point is that if he were to become a tenure-track UC professor rather than an adjunct, he would have to publish academically in order to be tenured.


Fair enough. That seems extremely likely, if not 100% inevitable. But that's not the only "point." The people who are popping up incessantly making disingenuous claims about what Obama did or did not write are not just trying to clarify a situation about tenure. They are trying to broadly discredit Obama. For example, that was the nature of the claims that I was addressing here.
7.31.2008 4:42pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
David M. Nieporent:

I see you're pulling the crap again of continuing to beat a horse long after it has dead and has scrolled off the page, and then stalking me to whine that people stop paying attention to you.


English translation: 'please don't point out that I cut and run after you proved I'm a liar.'

If you're going to post 73 posts all saying the same thing, most of them partisan hackery of the highest order, I am not going to keep reading the thread forever.


If you have proof of "partisan hackery" on my part, you should show us where it's hidden. You cut and run from comments like this because I proved beyond any doubt that the partisan hack is you.

Unlike you, I have a job


You know nothing about my employment status. But thanks for making it even more clear that you are inclined to state as fact things that you do not know for a fact.

"unsigned" does not mean "secret"


"Unsigned" means the author is unknown. Nevertheless, you're pretending to know that all the unsigned material in HLR under Obama was written by people other than Obama. Why are you pretending to know something that you don't know? And why did you make reference to "a quote posted here yesterday from Ben LaBolt," since there is no "quote … from Ben LaBolt?"

Yes, we do.


Then show your proof.

No, we're not.


Then show your proof.
7.31.2008 4:43pm
josh (www):
MartyA: "One final thing, if we don't give Hussein this unusual package we all run the risk of being accused of racism!"

No it's the words you write that demonstrate your racism, a condition, especially in your case, premised usually in ignorance and childish behavior:

Calling Obama "Hussein" advances no argument and just demonstrates your disdain for who he is;

"While Hussein's academic credentials were nonexistent, what leftish faculty in the country could turn down an articulate black who dresses up well, a Harvard Law editor, and his lovely (if not, bitter) wife who also graduated Harvard law and is also articulate and black?"

First, calling the U of C faculty "leftish" demonstrates you (1) didn't read the story this and other threads are entirely about; and (2) have no knowledge of the faculty. Dan Fischel was the dean who allegedly made the offer. He's best known for his "lefty" academic apologies for Michael Milken. As for the faculty itself, Geoff Stone, Martha Nussbaum and Mary Anne Case are in the minority on a faculty in which Cass Sunstein is considered a liberal among the likes of two Posners, Easterbrook, Epstein, Fishel, Baird, Jack Goldsmith (formerly), etc.

"an articulate black who dresses up well": Well .... let's just leave the overt racism of that idea aside and just note that it also demonstrates that you failed to (a) read the artcle and see the praise for Obama that had nothing to do with his skin color and articulateness; and (b) failed to read the various compliments offered by the bloggers here.

So, yes, I accuse you of racism

But just for different reasons than you think.
7.31.2008 5:01pm
josh (www):
Oh, and my apologies to Prof Lingren, who I think moved the ball very well on this one and wrote in the very first comment, "Please be civil in your comments."

I agree with that notion, but certain comments in what is almost universally a wonderful blog shouldn't go unanswered. If commenters are going to spew hatred (whether from the Right or Left), it should be singularly and repeatedly criticized.
7.31.2008 5:04pm
Suzy (mail):
I'm hardly an expert on how things work in the strange world of academia, but I can say with certainty that when people are hired at the already-tenured level, it is not unusual for talks to go on behind the scenes before the formal process involving faculty voting ever occurs. I'm sure most people in academia know that. So it's hardly unusual for a Dean to discuss the options with someone he wants to keep on the faculty. The unusual nature of the situation is that Obama had not already established a publication record. That points to his being even more of a "hot commodity" than the average candidate who already has tenure and is looking to switch institutions. Frankly, I doubt that he deserved that status. However, it makes sense of the original story. We have no reason to believe anyone is lying about it, even if four members of the faculty can say they never heard about it. Perhaps they weren't the ones asked, perhaps because they weren't the ones likely to rally support for the hiring vote. The Dean might not know with certainty how the faculty would vote, but he might have a pretty good idea, enough to make his informal pitch.
7.31.2008 5:17pm
James Lindgren (mail):
Please read the update on this story. I've talked to more -- and even better connected -- people.
7.31.2008 5:29pm
The Ace (mail):
Hahahahaha, but Obama is so "exceptional" darnit!!!
7.31.2008 5:39pm
The Ace (mail):

Then show your proof

Laugh out loud funny. The absence of evidence is.....evidence!!!!

You are simply a parody of the modern leftists jokebox...
7.31.2008 5:40pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
James, let me add my voice to others who have said your work on this story is excellent and much appreciated. Although I'm not sure "this story can be safely put to bed," because it seems that there are still some gaps in the story. What you're hearing about what Fischel said to others ("nor does [Dan] recall the whole thing with any certainty") doesn't match up that well with what Kantor says about what Fischel told Kantor ("he would be hired as a tenured professor"). Then again, maybe I've misunderstood or overlooked something.

David, it's interesting to put you side-by-side with someone like The Ace (whose scholarship is highlighted here). There's a large difference with regard to level of intelligence and education, and no difference at all with regard to level of honesty. I think this is a helpful lesson on the composition of the GOP.
7.31.2008 5:40pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
ace, your timing is impeccable. You showed up the moment I was about to mention you.
7.31.2008 5:42pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
The absence of evidence is.....evidence!!!!


Sometimes, yes. When Nieporent claims to know something that he doesn't actually know, this is evidence that he's dishonest. It's interesting to notice that this is what Bush did in selling the war: he pretended to know things that he didn't know. And pretended not to know things that he did know.
7.31.2008 5:49pm
The Ace (mail):
David, it's interesting to put you side-by-side with someone like The Ace (whose scholarship is highlighted here).

Hilarious. I think you should reference more posts in other threads.

Really, I do.
7.31.2008 6:06pm
The Ace (mail):
There's a large difference with regard to level of intelligence and education

Considering you are not a working adult, any claims you make regarding "education and intelligence" are irrelevant.
7.31.2008 6:07pm
The Ace (mail):
It's interesting to notice that this is what Bush did in selling the war: he pretended to know things that he didn't know. And pretended not to know things that he did know.

Too bad you could never factually demonstrate this.
7.31.2008 6:08pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
ace:

I think you should reference more posts in other threads.


Thanks for your support. I think I'll take your advice, right now.

Too bad you could never factually demonstrate this.


Start here and keep scrolling. The thread is still open, so maybe you can think of something Nieporent wasn't smart enough to think of.
7.31.2008 7:13pm
The Ace (mail):
Someone needs to reconcile this with the narrative that NYT is 'liberal.'

Hilarious.

Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?

OF course it is.

No serious person would argue otherwise.

Start here and keep scrolling

No thanks. Seriously, get a job.
Your continued reference to your own posts is bizarre.
7.31.2008 8:32pm
The Ace (mail):
Start here and keep scrolling

That isn't an answer nor is the silly bluster you've linked to. Bush didn't lie about the Iraqi uranium claim (the intelligence claims on Niger did not rest on forged documents alone - there were other sources.), and the British stood by the assessment ( Here is Lord Butler's nonpartisan panel, which closely examined the basis of the British intelligence:

''. . . we conclude that the statement in President Bush's State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that 'The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa' was well-founded.''

The rest of what you are doing is just noise.
Which is why you're doing it.
7.31.2008 8:53pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?

OF course it is.


Pay no attention to the first three paragraphs, where Okrent points out very explicitly that he's talking only about social issues like abortion, and not "electoral politics and foreign policy." Nice job adding to your impressive track record of using references dishonestly.

No serious person would argue otherwise.


No serious person could fail to notice that you've said nothing to address the proof I presented in the other thread. Nieporent at least went to the trouble of making various false claims.

Your continued reference to your own posts is bizarre


Of course you think it's bizarre to point (directly and indirectly) to places where claims are proven. It's something you usually avoid doing.
7.31.2008 8:53pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
Bush didn't lie


You apparently have not even bothered to read the other thread. You're pointing to exactly the same article pointed to by Nieporent, which I thoroughly addressed (start here and keep scrolling).

The other thread is still open, so your foolish regurgitation of stale talking points belongs at the bottom of that thread, not this one.
7.31.2008 8:57pm
DJ (mail):
I can't believe I'm the first to point this out, but I was at the U of C law school in 2000. And anyone who was there then will remember that Dean Fischel was going through some, er, personal and professional drama. So it's absolutely no surprise to me that his recollection of any conversations he had with faculty at the time could be muddy.

Don't get me wrong. I thought Dan did a good job as dean--as short as it lasted. It's just that there were a lot of politics and distractions that went on at the same time. I won't get into details, but people connected with the school know what I'm talkin' about. And, like me, I'm sure they can't believe Fischel can remember those times with any sense of clarity.
7.31.2008 9:16pm