Thursday, July 31, 2008

Obama, the teacher

We got John McCain's medical records a few months ago (exciting!), but now the New York Times has published eight exams that Senator Obama gave to students while teaching at the University of Chicago Law School. There is commentary by four legal experts on what these exams, complete with sample answers, might reveal about the presidential hopeful.

I don't expect you to read the entire article or exams, as they're quite lengthy, but the topics of his tests reveal a careful consideration of rights concerning sexual orientation and reproduction. It's not that the exams show a liberal bias that fits my beliefs; rather, they show an objective professor who understands the importance constitutional law will play in complicated social issues regarding homosexuality and reproductive choice.

Some interesting insights, from the experts:

"Senator Obama has a first-rate mind for legal doctrine and could have been a first-rate academic had his interests gone in that direction. He would have been most unlikely – even beyond the fact that his values differ – to have bought into the legal work underlying many of the current Administration’s policies, such as the incomplete 'torture memos.'"

"Senator Obama has a sensitivity to role. By this I mean that he doesn’t appear to have used his classroom as a platform for pushing his own pet theories of constitutional law. He seems to have taught 'down the middle' in a way that gave the students the tools to be fine constitutional lawyers but didn’t require them to agree with his position. By contrast, I’ve seen other constitutional law professors’ exams and model answers where a student who disagrees with the professor’s idiosyncratic approach or policy preferences would have found it hard to do well."

"What particularly impressed me was how even handed were his presentations of the competing sides the students might take. These summaries were remarkably free of the sort of cant and polemics that all too often afflicts academic discussions of race. Were this not a seminar on 'racism and the law' I doubt one could tell which side of each issue the teacher was on. And indeed, even knowing it was written by Senator Obama, one cannot be sure which side of each issue he really took. Whatever position he held, however, Obama could clearly see and dispassionately articulate the other side."

"Similarly, there is a great deal of moral seriousness in Obama’s legal materials. They are not just about technical and technocratic legal questions. Some of the great mysteries and tragedies of human life and American society — involving marriage, divorce, childbearing, cloning, the right to die with dignity, infertility, sexual orientation, and yes, of course, race — are probed in these materials in ways that encourage students to think not just about law, but about justice, and truth, and morality."

So what's the point of all this? The fact that he has the capacity to be so analytically objective (especially regarding complex matters involving individual rights as outlined by the Constitution) is fantastic. I've had professors that were extremely biased (usually in my favor, but once, not, and it was wretched.) An emphasis on understanding the so-called "other side", whatever it may be in Obama's case, means that he could potentially do a good job uniting the country's partisan split.

{via Feminist Law Professors}

1 comment:

Dennise said...

Very Interesting!