The Obama You Don't Know | The Washington Examiner

Chapter II

Chapter II: The myth of the 'rock-star professor'

September 19, 2012 | 12:00 am

Photo - Obama with his grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham, on a park bench in New York City, when Obama was a student at Columbia University. (Associated Press)
Obama with his grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham, on a park bench in New York City, when Obama was a student at Columbia University. (Associated Press)

Time magazine gushed in 2008 about Barack Obama's 12-year tenure as a law lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, saying, "Within a few years, he had become a rock-star professor with hordes of devoted students."

That may have been true during his first two years, when he ranked first among the law school's 40 instructors, with students giving him a rating of 9.7 out of a possible 10.

But law student evaluations made available to The Washington Examiner by the university showed that his popularity then fell steadily.

In 1999, only 23 percent of the students said they would repeat Obama's racism class. He was the third-lowest-ranked lecturer at the law school that year. And in 2003, only a third of the student evaluators recommended his classes.

His classes were small. A spring 1994 class attracted 14 out of a student body of 600; a spring 1996 class drew 13. In 1997, he had the largest class of his tenure with 49 students. But by then, his student rating had fallen to 7.75. Twenty-two of 40 faculty members ranked higher than Obama.

Some former faculty colleagues today describe Obama as disengaged, doing only what was minimally required and almost never participating in faculty activities.

And, unlike others on the Chicago Law School faculty who published numerous articles in legal journals, Obama's byline did not appear in a single legal journal while he taught there.

By comparison, more prominent legal scholars on the Chicago faculty wrote frequently. Federal Judge Richard Posner published 132 legal articles from 1993 to 2004, and federal Judge Frank Easterbrook published 32 legal articles from 1992 to 2004.

Obama has often cited his days at the law school as an important part of his preparation for the presidency. At a March 30, 2007, fundraiser, for example, he said, "I was a constitutional law professor, which means, unlike the current president, I actually respect the Constitution."

From 1992 until 2004, Obama taught three courses: "Current Issues in Racism and the Law," "Voting Rights and the Democratic Process," and "Equal Protection and Substantive Due Process."

Obama wasn't a professor; he was a lecturer, a position that the Chicago Law School said in 2008 "signifies adjunct status." He was elevated to a "senior lecturer" in 1996, the year he was first elected to the Illinois Senate in Springfield.

The new faculty status put him on par with Posner, Easterbrook and a third federal judge, Diane Wood. As the Chicago Law School explained, senior lecturers "have high-demand careers in politics or public service which prevent full time teaching."

Senior lecturers were, however, still expected to participate in university activities. University of Chicago Law School Senior Lecturer Richard Epstein told The Washington Examiner that Obama did not do so.

Obama, Epstein said, "did the minimal amount of work to get through. No one remembers him. He was not a participant in luncheons or workshops. He was here and gone."

Robert Alt, a former Obama student, echoes Epstein, telling the Examiner that "I think it's fair to say he wasn't engaged in the intellectual life of Chicago outside of the classroom."

Alt is director of the conservative Heritage Foundation's Rule of Law Programs and a senior legal fellow.

Alt said, "When you have faculty giving faculty lectures, you'd literally have packed rooms in which it's not unusual to have just all the big names of the university. It wasn't unusual to see Easterbrook and Posner, and it wasn't unusual to see the Nobel laureates attending as well."

Even so, Alt said, "I never remember ever seeing Obama in the audience."

Obama was also a no-show for the faculty workshops, nonclassroom lectures and moot court cases judged by sitting members of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals of the U.S. Current Chicago Law School professor Lisa Bernstein said faculty lecturers are still encouraged to participate in as many such events as possible.

The pattern of minimal performance at the Chicago campus was not an exception to the rule for Obama. In the state Senate during the same years he was lecturing, Obama voted "present" nearly 130 times, the most of any legislator in the chamber.

When then-Sen. Hillary Clinton made Obama's state Senate voting record an issue in their Democratic presidential primary contest in 2007, the New York Times said it found at least 36 instances when Obama was the lone "present" vote or was one of six or fewer lawmakers casting that vote.

And during his lone term as a U.S. senator, according to Gov Track.us: "From Jan 2005 to Oct 2008, Obama missed 314 of 1300 recorded or roll call votes, which is 24.0%. This is worse than the median of 2.4%."

Next: Chapter III: The 1997 speech that launched Obama

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