From the University of Chicago news archives: Obama’s students speak

November 20, 2014

Six years into his presidency, Barack Obama still gets me a few odd — usually very, very odd — inquiries about his real history.

Today I got another inquiry asking why anyone would believe Obama taught at the University of Chicago Law School. ‘After all, he wasn’t a real professor. Don’t you find it odd we never hear from his students? Maybe it’s because he didn’t have any.’ [Yes, I’ve edited out the snark and insults, and corrected the spelling.]

It pains me that these hoaxes continue.  I don’t condemn the gullible for having differing views, but I do resent that these discussions keep us from serious discussions of real policy.  I am troubled that so many people would condemn legislation we need based on their erroneous view that President Obama is somehow made illegitimate by history.  You’d think they’d have learned from “The Devil and Daniel Webster” that we should deal with the devil, even, to improve our nation and the heritage of good laws we build on. Or perhaps they could have learned from the history of World War II, when we allied our nation with Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union in order to defeat a more menacing evil.

Santayana’s Ghost is troubled, too, I’m sure.

We straighten the record as often as necessary.  If we don’t make corrections in these errors, the errors will be repeated, and the devastating results of peoples’ believing the hoaxes will be multiplied.

First, yes, Obama was an instructor in Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago Law School.  More accurately, he was a Lecturer, and then Senior Lecturer — but at Chicago that does not imply less-than-professorial adjuncts.  Instead, it suggests these are high-functioning, well-respected professionals who pause from careers of great power to instruct students.

The law school put up a page on their website with the answers to the most-asked questions:

Statement Regarding Barack Obama 

The Law School has received many media requests about Barack Obama, especially about his status as “Senior Lecturer.”

From 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama served as a professor in the Law School. He was a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996. He was a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004, during which time he taught three courses per year. Senior Lecturers are considered to be members of the Law School faculty and are regarded as professors, although not full-time or tenure-track. The title of Senior Lecturer is distinct from the title of Lecturer, which signifies adjunct status. Like Obama, each of the Law School’s Senior Lecturers has high-demand careers in politics or public service, which prevent full-time teaching. Several times during his 12 years as a professor in the Law School, Obama was invited to join the faculty in a full-time tenure-track position, but he declined.

That should answer serious inquiries, and even most snarky questions.  It won’t.  Dear Reader, you may wish to bookmark this site, and the University of Chicago site, for future, quick reference and rebuttal.

As with most other hoaxes involving Barack Obama’s birth, education, higher education and career, serious journalists and writers for justly-proud schools and organizations already sought out people who knew Obama before he became famous.  Claims that these interviews do not exist are hoaxes, as are the claims based on the imagined absence of these stories.

What did Obama’s students think of him, and why don’t we hear from them?  Apparently they thought he was a great instructor; we don’t hear from them because critics are Google-challenged, or just too nasty to admit the information is out there. For example, this is from The Record Online, the alumni magazine of the law school:

From the Green Lounge to the White House

Author:  Robin I. Mordfin

When Barack Obama arrived at the Law School in 1991, faculty and students alike sensed that he had a bright future ahead of him. As the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review, he was clearly an accomplished scholar with a fine mind and his choice of careers. And once he began teaching, his strong oratorical skills and his ability to communicate complex ideas made his political ambitions appear credible.

Craig Cunningham, ’93, one of the President’s first students and a supporter of his teacher’s political ambitions, felt that Obama was brilliant, talented, and had the potential to be a great leader. But Cunningham was also concerned about Obama’s political future.

“I did expect him to run for office, because I would hang around after class and we would talk about the state senate,” Cunningham explains. “But after he lost the congressional race to Bobby Rush I thought he was moving too fast, that he should slow down and not run for a different office for a while because he was trying to do too much at one time. And Chicago politics were not going to allow him to do
that. I was worried. And I was really surprised when he told me he was going to run for U.S. Senate.”

Douglas Baird, the Harry A. Bigelow Distinguished Service Professor of Law and former Dean, shared Cunningham’s concern that winning the seat was a long shot for Obama.

“I remember having a cup of coffee with him when he said he was thinking of running for the U.S. Senate, and I looked at him straight in the eye and said, ‘Don’t do it, you’re not going to win.’”

The future President came to the attention of the Law School when Michael McConnell, ’79, a professor at the Law School at the time who is now a federal judge on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, told then-Dean Baird about an impressive editor at the Harvard Law Review who was doing an excellent job editing McConnell’s submission. Baird reached out to Obama and asked him about teaching. Having already made plans to write a book on voting rights after graduation, Obama refused the offer. So Baird took a different approach and offered him a Law and Government Fellowship, which would allow him to work on his book and would perhaps lead him to develop an interest in teaching. Obama accepted the offer and began the fellowship in the fall of 1991. At that time, he also practiced civil rights, voting rights, and employment law as well as real-estate transactions and corporate law as an attorney with Miner,
Barnhill & Galland, a position he held until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2005.

Though the intended voting rights book ultimately shifted focus and became Dreams from My Father, Baird’s plans for moving Obama into the classroom played out as expected. By 1993, Obama was teaching Current Issues in Racism and the Law—a class he designed—and added Constitutional Law III in 1996.

“In Con Law III we study equal process and due process. He was incredibly charismatic, funny, really willing to listen to student viewpoints—which I thought was very special at Chicago,” says Elysia Solomon, ’99. “There were so many diverse views in the class and people didn’t feel insecure about voicing their opinions. I thought that he did a really good job of balancing viewpoints.”

“When I walked into class the first day I remember that we—meaning the students I knew—thought we were going to get a very left-leaning perspective on the law,” explains Jesse Ruiz, ’95. “We assumed that because he was a minority professor in a class he designed. But he was very middle-of-the-road. In his class we were very cognizant that we were dealing with a difficult topic, but what we really got out of that class was that he taught us to think like lawyers about those hard topics even when we had
issues about those topics.”

Over time, Obama developed a reputation for teaching from a nonbiased point of view. He was also noted for widening the legal views of his students.

“I liked that he included both jurisprudence and real politics in the class discussions,” says Dan Johnson-Weinberger, ’00.

“Lots of classes in law school tend to be judge-centric and he had as much a focus on the legislative branch as the judicial branch. That was refreshing.”

From 1992 to 1996, Obama was classified as a lecturer. In 1996, after he was elected to the state senate, he became a Senior Lecturer, a title customarily assigned to judges and others with “day jobs” who teach at the school.

While the comments the administration heard from students about Obama were that he had a marvelous intellectual openness and an ability to explore ideas in the classroom, he was not the subject of enormous student discussion.

“Most students were not that focused on Barack during the years I was there,” says Joe Khan, ’00. “For example, every year the professors would donate their time or belongings to the law school charity auction. Professor Obama’s donation was to let two students spend the day with him in Springfield, where he’d show them around the state senate and introduce them to the other senators. People
now raise thousands of dollars to be in a room with the man, but my friend and I won the bid for a few hundred bucks.”

“I knew he was ambitious, but at that point in time at the Law School there were so many people on the faculty that you knew weren’t going to be professors for the rest of their lives,” Solomon explains. “We had [Judge] Abner Mikva and Elena Kagan and Judge Wood and Judge Posner. There is a very active intellectual life at the Law School and this melding of the spheres of academics and the real world is very cool. It’s what attracts teachers and students to the school.”

Unsurprisingly, though, he was of greater interest to the minority students on campus. “I don’t think most people know his history,” Ruiz says, “but when he became the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review it was a national story. I remembering reading the story and thinking I gotta go to law school!”

“We African American students were very aware of him because at the time there really weren’t a lot of minority professors at the Law School,” Cunningham explains, “and we really wanted him to be a strong representation for the African American students. We wanted him to live up to the pressures and reach out to other ethnic minorities. And we were also very excited about possibly having an African American tenure-track professor at the Law School.”

But a tenure-track position was not to be, although not because of a lack of interest on the part of the Law School. It was apparent that while Obama enjoyed teaching and savored the intellectual give-and-take of the classroom, his heart was in politics.

“Many of us thought he would be a terrific addition to the faculty, but we understood that he had other plans,” explains David Strauss, Gerald Ratner Distinguished Service Professor. “Although I don’t think any of us imagined that things would work out the way they did.” And while students like Cunningham wanted him to continue to a tenure-track position, others were expecting a promising
and accomplished political career.

“I was into state politics while I was at the Law School, so I am one of the few alums who knew the President as both a legislator and as a teacher,” notes Johnson-Weinberger.

“I thought he would continue as a successful politician. But I never would have guessed that he would be our President.”

During his tenure in the state senate, Obama continued to teach at the Law School, some nights traveling straight up from evening sessions at the State House to his classroom.

“But the students never thought of him as a part-timer,” Strauss adds. “They just thought of him as a really good teacher.”

In 1996, Obama ran for, and won, the Thirteenth District of Illinois state senate seat, which then spanned Chicago South Side neighborhoods from Hyde Park–Kenwood to South Shore and west to Chicago Lawn. Then in 2000 he ran for, and lost, the Democratic nomination for Bobby Rush’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“He was very demoralized at that point and would not have recommended a career in public service to anyone,” Ruiz says. “He had suffered a setback, he was facing a lot of struggles in Springfield, and it was a hard lifestyle traveling back and forth to Springfield. We sat at lunch and he talked about how if he had joined a big firm when he graduated he could have been a partner. We did a lot of what if. But
then he decided to run for U.S. Senate. And the rest is history.”

And history it is. Since he first came to the attention of Douglas Baird, Barack Obama has gone from being the first African American president of Harvard Law Review to being the first African American President of the United States.

He came to the Law School and taught hundreds of students to think like lawyers and the students helped him to sift and think through myriad complex legal issues. In other words, even as President Obama left a lasting impression on the Law School and its students, that same environment helped to shape the man who became President Obama.

 

With the possible exception of Theodore Roosevelt, never before in history have we elected a president who had published two best-selling memoirs before running for the office (I’m not certain about Teddy; most of his writing came after he left the White House, but he well may have had a memoir published before he ran on his own in 1904).  Could Obama’s critics at least bother to get a copy of either of his books, to see whether he covered their questions there?

Yes, that would indeed require that they question in good faith.  That may be too high a standard.


Is President Obama Muslim?

January 25, 2014

A friend, who happens to be a Muslim and politically active, sent me this:

Next time one of your RWNJ friends or relatives claims President Obama is a “closet Muslim” who is trying to spread Islamic law throughout the U.S., remind them of this:

In Muslim countries there are certain tendencies. Among them:

  • They are anti-abortion.
  • They are supportive of the death penalty.
  • They are anti-gun control.
  • They are anti-separation of church and state.
  • They are supportive of teaching religious indoctrination in school.
  • They believe women should have less rights than men.
  • They oppose “multiculturalism.”
  • They believe homosexuality is “evil” and do not allow same-sex marriage.

SO, if President Obama were REALLY trying to spread Islamic law in the U.S., he’d be a REPLUBLICAN!!

Most of the people who complain about Shariah law in the U.S. don’t know what it is, and also don’t know what is in the Republican platforms in the states and national party.

Then, sorta to drill it home, another friend commented:

http://i.qkme.me/3qatww.jpg

http://rollingout.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/obama_in_israel_pic_3.jpg

https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSQSOXrcAq2V_q-sRcx7zW_mRrW68bHglAOkFfc4VvxASqU0i52

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-U5ug6oq0YEI/T6A2wvROiDI/AAAAAAAAAsA/ApHANGIbdjY/s1600/Obama+Bin+Laden+killing.jpg#obama%20killed%20Osama%20Bin%20Laden%20550x440

http://assets.nydailynews.com/img/2008/07/05/amd_obama-hotdog.jpg

https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSNRqZ2_AkVhn-0zB8vjncxXRvvZV1Zu9klSZB1CEf2ndH5rhuPhttp://cdn2-b.examiner.com/sites/default/files/styles/article_large/hash/52/29/52290a70c1b5478b5f29057e6b5082ce.jpg?itok=p0p342pU

http://www.bartcop.com/worst-muslin.jpg

Please don’t bother me with your bizarre claims that Barack Obama is Muslim. It immediately brands you, in my admittedly jaundiced eye, as one who either cannot tell nonsense from the truth, or one who is intent on spreading mistruths for nefarious, skullduggerous reasons.

[I apologize; the missive that came to me did not bear credit for the photographs; if you know who deserves credit for any or all of them, please tell us in comments.]

Tip of the old scrub brush to Eric and Jim.  They know who they are.


Fly your flag at half-staff today, honoring President John F. Kennedy

November 22, 2013

U.S. flags at the Washington Monument fly at half-staff, with the dome of the U.S. Capitol in the background.  Image captured from U.S. Flags.com

U.S. flags at the Washington Monument fly at half-staff, with the dome of the U.S. Capitol in the background. Image captured from U.S. Flags.com

November 22, 2013:  A proclamation from President Barack Obama:

Obama Proclamation on Day of Remembrance for President Kennedy

21 November 2013

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
November 21, 2013

DAY OF REMEMBRANCE FOR PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

A half century ago, America mourned the loss of an extraordinary public servant. With broad vision and soaring but sober idealism, President John F. Kennedy had called a generation to service and summoned a Nation to greatness. Today, we honor his memory and celebrate his enduring imprint on American history.

In his 3 years as President of the United States, John F. Kennedy weathered some of the most perilous tests of the Cold War and led America to the cusp of a bright new age. His leadership through the Cuban Missile Crisis remains the standard for American diplomacy at its finest. In a divided Berlin, he delivered a stirring defense of freedom that would echo through the ages, yet he also knew that we must advance human rights here at home. During his final year in office, he proposed a civil rights bill that called for an end to segregation in America. And recognizing women’s basic right to earn a living equal to their efforts, he signed the Equal Pay Act into law.

While President Kennedy’s life was tragically cut short, his vision lives on in the generations he inspired — volunteers who serve as ambassadors for peace in distant corners of the globe, scientists and engineers who reach for new heights in the face of impossible odds, innovators who set their sights on the new frontiers of our time. Today and in the decades to come, let us carry his legacy forward. Let us face today’s tests by beckoning the spirit he embodied — that fearless, resilient, uniquely American character that has always driven our Nation to defy the odds, write our own destiny, and make the world anew.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 22, 2013, as a Day of Remembrance for President John F. Kennedy. I call upon all Americans to honor his life and legacy with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities. I also call upon Governors of the United States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, officials of the other territories subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, and appropriate officials of all units of government, to direct that the flag be flown at half-staff on the Day of Remembrance for President John F. Kennedy. I further encourage all Americans to display the flag at half-staff from their homes and businesses on that day.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-first day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.

BARACK OBAMA

More:

White House photo:  Presidents and First Ladies, Barack and Michelle Obama, and Bill and Hillary Clinton, post a wreath and salute President John F. Kennedy at Kennedy's gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery, November 20, 2013

White House photo: Presidents and First Ladies, Barack and Michelle Obama, and Bill and Hillary Clinton, post a wreath and salute President John F. Kennedy at Kennedy’s gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery, November 20, 2013


Two presidents, a study in blue

September 27, 2013

Pete Souza photo - Pres Obama talks backstage with Pres Clinton as Hillary Clinton waits to be introduced at CGI event 9-24-2013

White House photographer Pete Souza: ‏@petesouza 24 Sep Pres Obama talks backstage with Pres Clinton as Hillary Clinton waits to be introduced at CGI [Clinton Global Initiative] event today [September 24, 2013] pic.twitter.com/TCYqyxMZa8

Pete Souza’s work as White House photographer continues to fascinate me.  He’s got more opportunity than most of us have to get great shots — but he’s also got a keen eye for a good story-telling photo, and a good eye for great photo composition on the fly.

In this photo, Souza captures two presidents lost in conversation, bathed in blue stage lights, awaiting their time on the stage; but next up is Hillary Clinton, who will introduce them.  Mrs. Clinton awaits her cue.  The presidents met at the annual meetings for the Clinton Global Initiative.

Hold on to this photo; depending on events of 2016, it may yet have many more stories to tell.


President Obama, a man of grace and encouragement

May 27, 2013

Consoler and Encourager in Chief:

Note President Obama left at Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, Oklahoma

Caption from Pete Souza‘s slide show: A message from President Barack Obama is seen on a Plaza Towers Elementary School sign, at Moore Fire Department Station #1 in Moore, Okla., May 26, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Pete Souza‘s work as White House photographer will ultimately make historians’ work much richer.  He’s got a great eye for a shot that needs to be snapped, and a great sense of art on the fly.  If you’re not a regular watcher of Souza’s work, you probably should be, especially if you’re teaching history.

More:


Presidents and umbrellas

May 19, 2013

A few photos from history:

President Dwight D. Eisenhower:

President Dwight D. Eisenhower with Indian President Rajendra Prasad, in India

Two Countries, One Umbrella – President Dwight D. Eisenhower with Indian President Rajendra Prasad, in India, December 11, 1959 (anyone have the year?) 

President John F. Kennedy

Aide holds umbrella for First Lady Jacqueline and President John F. Kennedy, inaugural night, 1961.

Aide holds umbrella for First Lady Jacqueline and President John F. Kennedy, inaugural night, 1961.

President Lyndon B. Johnson

Johnson in Honololulu 1966, with umbrella

President Lyndon B. Johnson arrives for church services in Honolulu, February 6, 1966, during Vietnam negotiations. To Johnson’s immediate right, Rep. Spark Matsunaga; on Johnson’s left, a Secret Service agent. National Archives photo

President Richard M. Nixon

Nixon campaigning in the rain in Hawaii, 1960

Caption from The AtlanticWire: In 1960, Richard Nixon pledged to campaign in all 50 states. He was not even rewarded for this foolishness with nice weather in Hawaii.

My memory is that no other presidential candidate has campaigned in Hawaii since then.  Has any other candidate campaigned in Alaska?

NASA Administrator Dr. Thomas Paine holding umbrella for Nixon

Collection: NASA Great Images in Nasa Collection Title: Nixon and Paine at Apollo 12 Launch Full Description: Dr. Thomas Paine, NASA Administrator, shields First Lady, Mrs. Richard M. Nixon, from rain while the President and daughter Tricia, foreground, watch Apollo 12 prelaunch activities at the Kennedy Space Center viewing area. Following the successful liftoff, the President congratulated the launch crew from within the control center. Date: 11/14/1969 NASA photo, on Flickr

The image of Nixon in the rain was captured several times.

Nixon, staff and security, in the rain

From the AtlanticWire: Even amid his staff and security, Nixon looks like a lonely man helpless against the elements. (AP photo?)

President Gerald R. Ford

Gerald Ford in the rain

Wally McNamee photo, University of Texas Center for American History.  UPI caption for their photos:  As Betty Ford holds the umbrella, a military aide rushes forward to assist President Ford as he trips and falls on the lower steps of the plane ramp following his arrival in Salzburg, Austria on June 1, 1975. (UPI Photo/Files)

President Ronald Reagan:

President Reagan in the rain

Undated photo of First Lady Nancy and President Ronald Reagan being sheltered on an airport in an unnamed place. Image from BigotBasher.

Reagan at the White House, in the rain:

White House staff shelter President Reagan's waving.  Freakout Nation image

White House staff shelter President Reagan’s waving. Freakout Nation image

President George H. W. Bush:

G H W Bush in the rain July 1989, AtlanticWire

Barbara Bush held the umbrella for President George H. W. Bush in July 1989 (in Italy?). From The AtlanticWire.

G H W Bush in the rain, late 1989

President George H. W. Bush found himself in the rain again, in late 1989. AtlanticWire image

President Barack Obama:

Obama at Lincoln National Cemetery, Memorial Day 2010

President Barack Obama took the stage amidst a downpour at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois, on Memorial Day. He announced that the event was being canceled because of the severe weather, and he told the crowd to seek shelter, May 31, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

More:


Here’s the photo of Obama the GOP hope Americans never see

May 17, 2013

It’s a prize-winning photograph by “Scout Tufankjian, an independent photographer whose portfolio includes a book of photographs from Obama’s first run for the White House.”

Scout Tufankjian's award-nominated photograph of Barack and Michelle Obama in East Davenport, Iowa, in 2012.

Barack and Michelle Obama in Booth No. 3 at Lagomarcino’s in the Village of East Davenport, Iowa, during the 2012 election campaign

Photographs sometimes reveal truths, and sometimes those truths are wonderful, and smile-making.

Bill Wundram’s column discusses the photo, in the Quad-City Times (it’s worth the click to read it).

THE QUIETUDE of the soda fountain booth was a marked difference from a rousing Obama appearance a half-hour earlier at a curb-to-curb outdoor rally.

After the speech, the Obamas adjourned to the cool of Lago’s. Tom had  prepared for them to be seated in Booth No. 3.

“The Obamas were shaking so many hands before coming into our soda shop that I had to make three different chocolate sundaes for them.” Tom says. “They kept melting.”

You can see all the photos in this Sony contest in a slide show, here.

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