Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Deconstructing Obama's Legal Pedagogy

Recall what I noted last night, in my post on Barack Obama at the University of Chicago Law School:

I haven't seen any law professors weigh in yet, but I thought I'd throw in my two-cents from the political science perspective."
In focusing on Obama's reading selections, I suggested that his assignments reveal a particular postmodern pedagogy. Obama puts special emphasis on the work of Derrick Bell, the country's original proponent of critical race theory.

I'm thus pleased to see I'm not only one who's noticed something skewed here. The New York Times is updating
Jodi Kantor's original articles with commentary from four legal experts, in its update to "Inside Professor Obama’s Classroom." John C. Eastman, from Chapman University Law School, observes that while he's impressed that Obama included readings from "across the ideological spectrum," the special attention to Bell's postmodernism raises red flags:

My one criticism of the course is his recommendation that students read Derrick Bell’s summary of some landmark (if notorious) Supreme Court decisions. Cases such as Dred Scott v. Sanford, The Slaughterhouse Cases, and Plessy v. Ferguson, and in particular the strong dissenting opinions in those cases, cry out for careful study of the original materials, not a secondary summary.
Yes, especially not a secondary summary from a predetermined deconstructionist approach. But see also Randy Barnett's entry, where he tries to preempt criticism of Obama by noting:

While the course materials themselves do not tell us very much about Senator Obama, the candidate, what they do tell is about Obama, the teacher, is generally favorable....

Indeed, if one is looking to these material to learn more about Senator Obama’s own views of either “racism and the law” or the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, one will be disappointed.
I think that lets Obama off the hook too easily, especially since Obama's syllabus assigned seven selections from Derrick Bell, in contrast to one from Robert Bork and one from Randall Kennedy.

Instead of pedagogy, Professor Ann Althouse focuses on legal credentials, and especially Obama's position as a tenured lecturer without publishing one word of legal research:
After his loss in the 2000 Congressional primary race to former Black Panther Bobby L. Rush, "colleagues noticed that he seemed exhausted and was smoking more than usual," and they offered him a tenured faculty position (with a job for his wife). Think about that! He never produced a word of legal scholarship, after all those years teaching, and now they would simply give him tenure — at the University of Chicago Law School, a top 5 school, where the faculty is known for voluminous scholarly publishing. The case for tenure in law school depends predominantly on scholarship. You don't get tenure for being a very popular teacher. The failure to publish anything should be fatal to the tenure case of a lawprof who was hired with a belief in his promise as a scholar, but here tenure is bundled into the original offer to someone who had demonstrated that he lacked that promise. So this is interesting. The University of Chicago Law School has some explaining to do.
The question of Obama's qualifications also comes up at the Wall Street Journal, "‘Publish or Perish’? Apparently Not for Obama at U. of Chicago Law."

See also my original post, "
Professor Obama's Radical Syllabus."