Friday, August 01, 2008

Obama as Professor

I thought The New York Times article about Barack Obama's stint as a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School was interesting. Not only did it provide insights about how Obama "refined his public speaking style, his debating abilities, his beliefs," but also it described how he always stayed somewhat aloof from other faculty members and remained untouched by their views. The Head of Circulation here at Pace, Vicky Gannon, pointed out how this picture of Obama diverges dramatically from the picture painted by conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, who has strongly implied that Obama spent too much time in the faculty lounge, making him out of touch with ordinary Americans. It sounds to me as if Obama avoided the faculty lounge, focusing instead on his interaction with students (he was an extremely popular instructor, so much so that "enrollment in his classes swelled. Most scores on his teaching evaluations were positive to superlative."), and on his political career, which was not particularly successful in its early stages. Vicky also pointed out that the Times links in a sidebar to exams that Obama gave while at Chicago, and also provides his sample answers. I wish more of our faculty would supply answers so that students could compare their work against a "model" answer. Obama did not publish while at Chicago; in fact, he has never published any legal commentary. He did, however, help with developing a casebook on voting rights that was published by Professor Richard Pildes. The article concludes that Obama "was unwilling to put his name to anything that could haunt him politically." Given the nasty turn that the presidential campaign has taken in the last few weeks, Obama was probably wise to "lay low."

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