The Great Brain

Jim Lindgren at Volokh (via Insty) is talking about what Barack Obama’s teaching job at the University of Chicago was and was not. The question on the table seems to be whether, when or if he was offered tenure, and under what conditions. The obvious point:

I have now talked to four members of the University of Chicago law faculty, including at least one of Obama’s campaign donors, and all four of them say that they do not remember voting Barack Obama a tenured or tenure-track offer. …

All thought that a tenure-track offer might well have been approved if it had been brought to the faculty. All expressed doubt whether the faculty would have made a tenured offer; one professor stated emphatically that it never would have happened, which of course is just one person’s opinion. According to those I spoke with, a tenured offer would have been problematic because — despite his intelligence, teaching ability, and success in law school — Barack Obama may not have had any scholarly publications (at least they were not aware of any).

Expressed “doubt”? What on earth is the question? This is the University of Chicago — full tenure for someone with no publications? Selections from the comments:

I would be interested to find out when was the last time that UC made an offer-with-tenure to a candidate who did not already have tenure at another institution.

It’s not unheard of for a dean to make promises to a candidate or potential candidate that he can’t deliver on. But how unusual is it for a dean at this sort of school to promise an offer that includes tenure to a potential candidate with no scholarly publications?

As an academic . . . I regard it as exceptionally unusual for someone without a single publication ten years after completing his degree would be offered a tenured position at a place like Chicago.

I was a UC undergrad, I am married to a UC PhD, and I have been a faculty wife at several institutions, none of which come close to UC levels of intellectual self-importance. Unless UC is a radically different place than when I was there a quarter century ago, a job-with-tenure (as opposed to tenure-track) for someone without any academic publications to his name is simply unthinkable.

Interestingly, in the comments David Bernstein dissents, and insists it would not have been unusual for the editor of the Harvard Law Review to be offered tenure even at U. of C. in 1991, even absent any evidence of what is called scholarship. I find that impossible to believe, though. There is some red-herring discussion about whether he was perhaps the author of an unsigned HLR student Note… which hardly makes a difference in terms of what we’re talking about here.

The point, I think, is that the Obama myth, despite the efforts of some of us to address it on precisely this point, is so inflated that people would actually believe that he would be the subject of a level of unprecedented legitimization of his status as an intellectual based on … nothing. Nothing.

Originally posted on Likelihood of Success, Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog. He also blogs about developments in the law concerning trademark, copyright, new media and free speech on an entirely other pretty good blog, LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION:®.

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