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July 29, 2008

Senator Obama as a Teacher at the University of Chicago Law School

A few comments on the NY Times article on the subject.  I preface this by saying that I've never met Obama, he was not teaching when I visited there, and I've not discussed the article, or their experience with Senator Obama, with any of my new colleagues.

From the Times:

At a school where economic analysis was all the rage, he taught rights, race and gender. Other junior faculty dreamed of tenured positions; he turned them down. While most colleagues published by the pound, he never completed a single work of legal scholarship.

Economics is still a powerful analytical tool and influence for many faculty at Chicago, but during the time Obama taught "rights, race and gender" at Chicago, various tenured members of the faculty (Mary Anne Case and Martha Nussbaum, among others) were doing so too. 

At a formal institution, Barack Obama was a loose presence, joking with students about their romantic prospects, using first names, referring to case law one moment and “The Godfather” the next.

Chicago just ain't that formal!  Or maybe everyone was playing "laid back" when I visited!

Mr. Obama, now the junior senator from Illinois and the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, spent 12 years at the University of Chicago Law School. Most aspiring politicians do not dwell in the halls of academia, and few promising young legal thinkers toil in state legislatures. Mr. Obama planted a foot in each, splitting his weeks between one of the country’s most elite law schools and the far less rarefied atmosphere of the Illinois State Senate.

We shall hopefully find out if these experiences enhance Presidential performance.

The Chicago faculty is more rightward-leaning than that of other top law schools, but if teaching alongside some of the most formidable conservative minds in the country had any impact on Mr. Obama, no one can quite point to it.

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

Chicago certainly has been more libertarian/free-market-utopian leaning than Yale, Harvard, or Stanford, but whether that is true today and will be true tomorrow is a different matter.  If one is looking for an unusually large number of "conservative" law professors--not libertarians like Epstein--Northwestern, among the top 15 law schools, really stands out more than Chicago these days.  Economics remain an important influence in much faculty scholarship, but that isn't the same thing as "rightward-leaning" anymore.  And it does puzzle me a bit how a school with very high-profile liberals like Martha Nussbaum and Geoffrey Stone--as high-profile as any in the legal academy--still gets pegged as "rightward-leaning."  (The school has even been known to appoint faculty with a sympathetic interest in Karl Marx, for God's sake!)  Of course, as I noted on an earlier occasion, "Willingness (and ability!) to mix it up in vigorous intellectual combat is the hallmark of the school, not political ideology. This is as true for the faculty as the student body."   

The Chicago law faculty is full of intellectually fiery friendships that burn across ideological lines. Three times a week, professors do combat over lunch at a special round table in the university’s wood-paneled faculty club, and they share and defend their research in workshop discussions. Mr. Obama rarely attended, even when he was in town....

Several colleagues say that Mr. Obama was surely influenced by the ideas swirling around the law school campus: the prevailing market-friendliness, or the use of economic tools to analyze the impact of laws, for example. But none could say how. “I’m not sure we changed him,” Mr. Baird said.

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

No coment, just noted.  I guess time will tell on this one.

Posted by Brian Leiter on July 29, 2008 in Of Academic Interest | Permalink | TrackBack

South Carolina Law Review Trying to Institute "Peer Review"

The proposal is here.  My guess is they will have trouble getting suitable referees.  Referees who volunteer may not necessarily be the most qualified, but time will tell.  But it's a worthy experiment, and hopefully it will succeed.

Posted by Brian Leiter on July 29, 2008 in Of Academic Interest | Permalink | TrackBack

July 28, 2008

More Corrupt Hiring Practices at DOJ

"Monica Goodling" will now be synonymous for "political hack undermining the integrity of law enforcement".  The disgraceful graduate of Regent University School of Law will, one expects, be disbarred for her violation of federal law governing the hiring for non-political positions.  An excerpt from the report:

We found that Goodling’s Internet research on candidates for Department positions was extensive and designed to obtain their political and ideological affiliations.

  We determined that while working in the OAG, Goodling conducted computer searches on candidates for career as well as political Department positions. Goodling used an Internet search string in her hiring research that she had received from Jan Williams, her predecessor as the Department’s White House Liaison. At some time during the year Williams served as White House Liaison, she had attended a seminar at the White House Office of Presidential Personnel and received a document entitled “The Thorough Process of Investigation.” The document described methods for screening candidates for political positions and recommended using www.tray.com and www.opensecrets.org to find information about contributions to political candidates and parties. The document also explained how to find voter registration information. In addition, the document explained how to conduct searches on www.nexis.com, and included an example of a search string that contained political terms such as “republican,” “Bush or Cheney,” “Karl Rove,” “Howard Dean,” “democrat!,” “liberal,” “abortion or pro-choice,” as well as generic terms such as “arrest!” and “bankrupt!”

UPDATE:  More choice excerpts here.

Posted by Brian Leiter on July 28, 2008 in Legal Profession | Permalink | TrackBack

Seto on Dean Simson's Call for a Boycott of US News

Ted Seto (Loyola/LA) has some interesting observations here.  (See also the first comment there.)  Professor Seto is surely right that the biggest problem for US News, if schools refused to report data, is that the magazine would have no access to the per capita expenditures data, which is often the tail that wags the ranking dog (Yale is #1 in US News only because of per capita expenditures, which favors small schools like Yale against very large schools like Harvard).  We know, however, from the college rankings that when schools don't cooperate, US News simply supplies "guesstimates" for the missing data.  In the case of the law school rankings, they will have multiple years worth of expenditures data on which to make a projection, though presumably it will be a conservative, rather than generous, estimated, meaning any school that doesn't cooperate will almost certainly fall in US News.  And, as we have discussed before, explaining a fall is always much harder than explaining a rise (which requires no explanation!), especially given the bad habit of journalists of reporting the overall US News rank as though it meant something. 

The bottom line, then, is that most law schools will not boycott, unless they are confident that most other schools are boycotting.  And that is only likely to happen if the schools that can most easily withstand being abused by US News--namely, Harvard and Yale--step forward and declare that they are done supplying data to the magazine.

So Deans Kagan and Koh, it's up to you! 

Meanwhile, we will await Mr. Morse's response to our "open letter."

Posted by Brian Leiter on July 28, 2008 in Rankings | Permalink | TrackBack

Houston Sends Its Alumni Magazine to Every Law Professor in the United States...

...which is always a waste of money, but especially so when the magazine continues to tout the meaningless "improvement" in its U.S. News ranking.  Tsk, tsk!

Posted by Brian Leiter on July 28, 2008 in Rankings | Permalink | TrackBack

July 25, 2008

Former Cardozo Dean Paul Verkuil Named Interim Dean at Miami

The University of Miami press release is here.

Posted by Brian Leiter on July 25, 2008 in Faculty News | Permalink | TrackBack

July 24, 2008

More on Northwestern's 24-Month JD

Here.  The best line comes at the end, from Geoffrey Stone (Chicago):  "Northwestern gets more tuition with less teaching."

UPDATE:  Larry Ribstein (Illinois), true believer in markets, speaks up for the Northwestern plan:  "This may or may not be something the market wants, and it’s almost certainly not something everybody wants. I think you get a higher-quality education by spreading it out over three years, other things equal. Here other things are not necessarily equal, since Northwestern is arguably beefing up its program while shortening it."  This may well be right, though, as we noted previously, the "beefing up" at issue makes the law school more like a business school, which will not, as Professor Ribstein suggests, appeal to everyone.   

Posted by Brian Leiter on July 24, 2008 in Of Academic Interest | Permalink | TrackBack

Most Heavily Trafficked Blogs by Law Professors

Blog Emperor Caron, who never met a ranking he didn't like, has updated his periodic report on the blogs run by law professors with the most visitors.  Of the top five, four have almost nothing to do with law, and four are right-wing or far right-wing in their political orientation.  What this tells us, I think, is that the market for actual legal analysis on blogs is not as big as one might hope.

Posted by Brian Leiter on July 24, 2008 in Rankings | Permalink | TrackBack

July 23, 2008

"Nietzsche's Naturalism Reconsidered"

More information and link here for any readers who might be interested in the topic.

Posted by Brian Leiter on July 23, 2008 in Jurisprudence | Permalink | TrackBack

July 22, 2008

"The Market for Bad Legal Scholarship": Green v. Simon

Bruce Green (Fordham) replies to William Simon's shocking "j'accuse" that we noted last year.  I'm not sure Professor Simon comes off looking too good after Professor Green is done, but I readily admit this is not my field.

Of course, the "market for bad legal scholarship" (though not in Green's precise sense) is huge--and thanks to blogs, it's now even bigger!

UPDATE:  Professor Simon's rejoinder is available here.  You may skip to the conclusion, on the very last page, to get a flavor for the tenor of this exchange.

Posted by Brian Leiter on July 22, 2008 in Of Academic Interest | Permalink | TrackBack