Paul L. Caron

Sunday, January 22, 2017

President Obama's Lack Of Scholarly Chops Prevents Him From Being Hired As Law Prof At Columbia, Kansas; But 'Professor Of Practice' Is A Possibility


Chronicle of Higher Education, Prof. Barack Obama Needs a New Job, So We Sent Around His Academic Résumé:

It can be tough out there for an academic who’s been out of the game for so long, and Mr. Obama probably hasn’t updated his curriculum vitae in a while. So we did it for him.

We’ve noticed the former senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School padding his academic résumé in the waning days of his presidency. Mr. Obama went on a bit of a spree in the final weeks, publishing articles in Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and his old grad-school haunt, the Harvard Law Review.

Mr. Obama is no fool. He remembers that publication is the coin of the realm. Since he didn’t put his name to any scholarly articles during his earlier academic career — minding his political ambitions, he played his cards close to the vest back then — he needed to make up for lost time.

But we didn’t just update Mr. Obama’s résumé for him. We also sent it around to a handful of law professors who have served on appointment committees, and asked them to provide feedback. Set aside the specific benefits of having a former president on the faculty, we said, and focus on the his merits as a once and future academic. ...

Daniel C. Richman, a professor at Columbia Law School, said Mr. Obama’s light publication record might cause a hiring committee to balk at welcoming him as a peer. "Were we to consider him as [a candidate making a lateral move] for a regular academic position, his candidacy would rise or fall on his written work alone," wrote Mr. Richman. "And some would worry that the work, ranging across diverse fields like clean energy, health care, and criminal justice, lacks a clear scholarly agenda."

Mr. Richman also wondered if Mr. Obama’s inclination to reach out to the broader public might also work against him. "Because some of my colleagues think that public intellectuals are ‘high variance,’" he said, "I would also expect arguments that someone awarded both a Grammy and a Nobel Peace Prize might be too externally focused."

Good news, though! Columbia does appoint "professors from practice," whose legal expertise is based primarily on field experience. Mr. Richman said Mr. Obama would make a terrific candidate for such a post.

Stephen R. McAllister, a professor and former dean at the University of Kansas School of Law, said Mr. Obama’s almost-nonexistent record of legal writing would raise concerns about his academic chops. "A sample exam and syllabus from years ago," he wrote, "provide no comfort that he is committed to producing top-quality legal scholarship." 

Also, Mr. Obama is 55 years old. Even if he’s capable of top-flight work, a hiring committee might wonder if he’s hungry enough to do it. "We have always been wary of candidates who apply for a position either mid- or late-career," said Mr. McAllister, "because we worry they are simply seeking to ‘retire’ to academia, and are not motivated to be as active in all aspects of a faculty member’s responsibilities, most especially in producing scholarship."

Scholarship was never Mr. Obama’s forté. In fact, he didn’t really start publishing journal articles until he became president. As a young lecturer at Chicago Law, he won over his colleagues and students with his skill in the classroom. Mr. Obama was known as a deft teacher: sharp, charismatic, and even-handed. More than once the law school tried to lure him with a tenure-track appointment, which would have meant more scholarly writing. But Mr. Obama declined.

His reputation as a good teacher would be "a definite plus," said Mr. Richman. But for typical candidates, a hiring committee would look at publications first. (The emphasis might be slightly different, he noted, for a "professor from practice" candidate.)

See also Chicago Maroon, The Professor and the President, Eight Years Later

Legal Education | Permalink


I'd love to see this sort of analysis applied to the many trailing spouse boondogles we've seen at law schools over the years...

Posted by: Anon | Jan 22, 2017 12:19:50 PM

What about a deanship? More fun than living in Washington.

Posted by: mike livingston | Jan 23, 2017 4:21:25 AM

Obama is burnishing is resume for academia? Making sure he is ready to kneel in front of the hiring panels and plea for a professorship? Are you kidding?

Hillary got $14 million advance for her book. Obama will get at least that, and probably much more. Hillary got $250k per speech. Obama could write his own ticket on a speaking schedule. They guy could make a million dollars on any given week of his choosing. Maybe any given day. Obama is going to teach, but he is going to do it for fun. He isn't going to write any useless scholarship.

Posted by: JM | Jan 23, 2017 6:06:39 AM

This is ridiculous. First, stating the former president's full name just to emphasize what an outsider he is. Second, casting aspersions on his legal experience. Please, he has experience, much more than most of the posters here. Third, there is no indication that he is interested in this. This is just an opportunity to thrash him over his supposed deficiencies in legal background. From all news reports, he's more interested in reforming redistricting efforts to preclude gerrymanders which is a more praiseworthy task than being a law professor.

Posted by: Uxorius | Jan 23, 2017 7:37:47 AM

I would imagine that any school who would honestly (lol, I know) look at Obama's resume for a professorship would have to review his university grades and any papers he wrote. He didn't seal his academic records for no reason.

Posted by: TBlakely | Jan 23, 2017 9:43:59 AM

Methinks students taking a class taught by the former President would be required to sign an NDA agreeing not ask questions about any of the unconstitutional decisions he made while in the White House...

Posted by: MM | Jan 23, 2017 6:13:15 PM

I think his academic records are in the same place as Trump's tax returns

Posted by: mike livingston | Jan 24, 2017 2:57:11 AM

Uxorius, is this post a statement about Mr. Obama's academic credentials or a statement about the nature of academic hiring? I read it as the latter - a two-term president and former lecturer at a highly-regarded law school gets dinged for being essentially "underqualified" due to light publication. If any faces are plastered with egg here, Mr. Obama's face is not one of them.

Posted by: scelestus | Jan 24, 2017 7:03:08 AM

Mr. Blakely: More right-wing claptrap. "Sealed" his academic records? You've been reading too much WND.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Jan 24, 2017 2:00:45 PM