Paul L. Caron

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Is America Ready For a Professor President — Especially A Rich One?

The Cut (New York Magazine), Elizabeth Warren’s Classroom Strategy:

WarrenA lifelong teacher, she’s the most professorial presidential candidate ever. But does America want to be taught?

The story of Elizabeth Warren’s career in education — at least in legal education — begins with one word: assumpsit. It is literally the first word of the first case she had to read for the first class she ever took as a 24-year-old law student at Rutgers University in 1973. She has recalled, in vivid detail, the fear and confusion she’d felt as a young mother, former public-school teacher, and unlikely law student when her first law professor walked into the room and called on a student whose name began with A, asking her, “Ms. Aaronson, what is ‘assumpsit’?” Ms. Aaronson had not known, and neither had the next several students he called on after her. Ms. Warren also had not known what assumpsit meant, despite having done the reading for the day.

Since her last name was at the end of the alphabet, Warren was spared public humiliation, but she left her first law-school class badly shaken, with a degree of clarity about how she must move forward: “Read all the words and look up what you don’t know.”

In the following years, Warren became a law-school professor: first teaching night classes at Rutgers and eventually landing at Harvard, where she worked for 16 years before becoming a U.S. senator from Massachusetts in 2013.

In 1999, more than 20 years after Warren attended her first law class at Rutgers, Jay O’Keeffe, who now works as a consumer-protection lawyer in Roanoke, Virginia, attended his first law class at Harvard. It was taught by Warren. “She did not say anything like ‘Hello’ or ‘I’m Liz Warren, and welcome to Contracts,’ ” O’Keeffe recalled. “Instead, she put her books down, looked over her glasses at her seating chart, and said, ‘Mr. Szeliga, what’s ‘assumpsit’?’ ”

Assumpsit — which, Warren told me, “means that the action is in contract rather than in tort” — became Professor Warren’s calling card, though she says no matter how widely advance warnings spread, 96 percent of new law students would walk in unprepared for it. When Joseph Kennedy III introduced Warren at the Democratic National Convention three summers ago, the Massachusetts representative and grandson of Robert Kennedy recalled his “first day of law school, my very first class” in 2006, during which he had been the unlucky mark: “Mr. Kennedy, do you own a dictionary? That’s what people do when they don’t know what a word means; they look it up,” he recalled her saying during his public immolation. “I never showed up unprepared for Professor Elizabeth Warren ever again.”

“Yes, I do to my students what my teacher did to me,” Warren said gleefully, as she drank tea on her Cambridge sunporch in July. She spoke in the present tense, as she often does, about her teaching career, even though it’s been more than eight years since she has commanded a classroom.

So much of Warren’s approach to pedagogy can be understood via the assumpsit gambit: With it, she establishes direct communication and affirms that she’s not going to be doing all the talking or all the thinking; she’s going to be hearing from everyone in the room. By starting with a question that so many get wrong but wind up learning the answer to, she’s also telegraphing that not knowing is part of the process of learning.

Warren’s work as a teacher — the profession she dreamed of from the time she was in second grade — remains a crucial part of her identity, self-presentation, and communicative style. ...

Warren has won multiple teaching awards, and when I first profiled her in 2011, early in her Senate run and during what would be her last semester of teaching at Harvard, I spoke to students who were so over the moon about her that my editors decided I could not use many of their quotes because they were simply too laudatory. Many former students I interviewed for this story spoke in similarly soaring terms. One, Jonas Blank, described her as “patient and plainspoken, like an elementary-school teacher is expected to be, but also intense and sharp the way a law professor is supposed to be.” Several former students who are now (and were then) Republicans declined to talk to me on the record precisely because they liked her so much and did not want to contribute to furthering her political prospects by speaking warmly of her.

Yet it remains an open question whether the work Warren does so very well — the profession about which she is passionate and that informs her approach to politics — will work for her on the presidential-campaign trail. ...

It may be true that we don’t want a president who asks us to do homework. But we might want one who manages to see in us, somehow, potential.

Wall Street Journal, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Professors:

Elizabeth Warren shows how to accumulate a small fortune while working at a ‘non-profit’ called Harvard.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) likes to talk a lot about an affordability crisis in higher education. Fortunately for Ms. Warren and her husband, there’s no crisis at all for the people who work there.

This week Forbes magazine estimates the net worth of various 2020 presidential candidates. While it’s no surprise that a number of former business and finance executives come to the campaign with sizable fortunes, what’s remarkable is how much wealth is now attainable for those in the allegedly non-profit sector of the U.S economy.

Dan Alexander, Chase Peterson-Withorn and Michela Tindera of Forbes estimate that Sen. Warren and her husband enjoy a net worth of $12 million. ...

Nobody is claiming that any of the current crop of presidential candidates is as good as the Clintons when it comes to monetizing political power. But some voters may be surprised at how well educators at non-profit, tax-advantaged institutions are compensated, particularly when university schedules allow them to supplement their incomes with outside projects. In April of this year, Matt Murphy reported for the State House News Service in Massachusetts:

Warren and her husband Bruce Mann reported total income of $905,742 in 2018... After deductions, Warren and Mann had an adjusted gross income of $846,394. ...

Generally Americans don’t begrudge anyone earning an honest buck. But voters may find it hard to reconcile the Warren wealth with her constant demands for more taxpayer subsidies benefiting institutions like the one where she and her husband made their fortune.

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


TaxGal: "Barack Obama is highly respected because he was able to project both warm humanity and professional and intellectual depth."

And a big liar and privacy violator.

Quoted without further comment:

President Obama, Aug. 2013: "“There is no spying on Americans, we don’t have a domestic spying program."

2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, May 2015:

"A federal court has decided that the National Security Agency’s bulk, warrantless collection of millions of Americans’ phone records is illegal."

That program “exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized,” Judge Gerard Lynch wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel."

The law “cannot be interpreted in a way that defies any meaningful limit,” he added.

The Second Circuit’s decision provides the most significant legal blow to the NSA operations to date and comes more than a year after a lower court called the program “almost-Orwellian” and likely unconstitutional. The appeals court did not examine the constitutionality of the surveillance program in its ruling on Thursday.

Posted by: MM | Aug 26, 2019 1:57:14 PM

John Adams was a school teacher. John Quincy Adams was a Professor. Garfield and Arthur were school teachers. Woodrow Wilson and Lyndon Johnson were school teachers. Obama was a Professor.

A plurality of presidents were Lawyers, which Warren was before becoming a Professor. Many were Senators, which Warren is now.

Trump is a lot richer than Warren, so I'm not sure why Warren's comparatively meager net worth would be held against her--unless the problem is that she is not rich enough to reliably look out for billionaires?

Posted by: Teacher presidents | Aug 25, 2019 8:44:31 PM

As I have understood the facts (not considering this a major issue), Elizabeth Warren believed her family history of Native American heritage: that was not a "false claim" but a perhaps misleading one since her DNA test established some Native American lineage, but not the level that she had understood. Continuing to push this as fraud is absurd.

Barack Obama is highly respected because he was able to project both warm humanity and professional and intellectual depth. The right wing attempt to vilify him as "condescending" is telling--when the current buffoon in office is a bigoted bully who is neither warm, personable, honest, unbiased or decent, much less intelligent or studied in any of the issues of major concern to this nation.

Posted by: TaxGal | Aug 23, 2019 5:29:26 PM

Unemployed: "One of the more consistent criticisms of him was his pedantic, condescending lecturing style of speaking to the public."

I never minded that. I objected to his credentialed argument:

Obama circa 2016: "I taught Constitutional law."

This was his go-to position whenever he wanted to violate the Constitution, as in the 2nd Amendment, or whenever he was exposed as having violated the Constitution, as in the 4th and 5th Amendments.

Posted by: MM | Aug 23, 2019 1:29:57 PM

We've already had one, remember? Obama was touted as a ConLaw professor. One of the more consistent criticisms of him was his pedantic, condescending lecturing style of speaking to the public.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Aug 23, 2019 3:56:53 AM

Elizabeth Warren claimed to be a minority in the AALS Directory from 1986 to 1995. The Directory is widely-read by legal educators, and law schools use this Directory to locate suitable minority candidates for their faculties. It is irrelevant whether Harvard considered or didn’t consider her fake minority heritage when they hired her. What is relevant is she that made this false claim in the Directory knowing what it is used for. This establishes that she intended to commit a fraud.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 22, 2019 3:56:06 PM

The WSJ editorial is a terrible attack piece – and by terrible, I mean both terribly motivated and terribly executed. I am disappointed to see you amplify it.

On the “terribly motivated” front, the opinion piece – which purports to be digesting the Warren portion of a Forbes article on the wealth of various presidential candidates – somehow digresses from a mention in the Forbes article of the Warrens’ home into an attempted resuscitation of the long-ago-debunked myth about Warren using her Native American heritage for professional advantage. Fact check: (1) Warren wasn’t up for tenure at HLS in 1993. She had been tenured since 1981 at Houston and then Texas and then Penn. In 1993, HLS was trying to hire her away from her tenured (and endowed) professorship at Penn. (2) Yes there was a faculty vote on whether to offer Warren the job, but it was not “contested” in any meaningful sense. The editorial tries to justify that term by linking to a Crimson article that says there was a single dissenting faculty vote – from an old-timer who was afraid HLS would give Warren his classes to tach. (3) As someone who was a student at HLS when all of this was happening, I can say there was zero question that Warren was getting the offer. She was a superstar. The only question was whether HLS would offer her husband a good enough position to convince them to move (which evidently they did not, since Warren turned the offer down at that time). (4) Again, based on personal experience at the time, the editorial’s implication that Warren’s Native American heritage was a factor in the offer from HLS is false. There was a huge degree of student interest in the anticipated offer to Warren in the spring of 1993, in part because she was beloved by students, and in part because of frustration over the slow pace in hiring diverse faculty (which had made the then-recent decisions over Clare Dalton and Regina Austin so bruising). Derrick Bell had left the law school over its failure to hire a minority woman. If any of the students or the HLS faculty or administration had thought that Warren was a minority woman, that would for stone cold certain have been part of the public discussion. They did not, and it was not.

On the “terribly executed” front, the premise of the editorial that the salary of a professor has anything to do with the nonprofit status of her employer is patently ridiculous. Universities are “nonprofits” because when they generate a profit from their activities, that profit is used to fund further educational activities, rather than inuring to shareholders of the university. The fact that an organization is a nonprofit does not exempt it from paying market-rate salaries to its employees – a fact which the author no doubt appreciates when he receives medical care at a nonprofit hospital. If the hospital did not pay market salaries to its doctors and nurses, they would find other employment.

The correct fight here, with which the opinion piece utterly fails to engage, is with the inconsistency between high academic salaries (both for faculty and administrative staff) and the ostensible goal of making education more affordable. The problem is not, as the editorial urges, that Warren is supporting taxpayer subsidies; it is that she does not acknowledge the connection between the high costs borne by students and the salaries that universities pay. The editorial could have developed that connection but made no effort to do so.

Posted by: Matt | Aug 22, 2019 10:04:45 AM

We survived Woodrow Wilson. We've been trying to overcome his terms since.

Posted by: Tom N. | Aug 22, 2019 9:49:37 AM