Legal Eagles

Mar 31, 2008 2:01pm

Is it fair for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, to call himself a former law professor?

The Clinton campaign has made a stink of this as of late, hoping to muddy the resume-inflation waters after Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, was forced to recant her Hemingway-esque tale of landing in Bosnia under sniper fire. Team Clinton sent out an email called "Just Embellished Words: Senator Obama’s Record of Exaggerations & Misstatements," and deputy communications director Phil Singer in a conference call told reporters, "Sen. Obama has often referred to himself as ‘a constitutional law professor’ out on the campaign trail. He never held any such title. And I think anyone, if you ask anyone in academia the distinction between a professor who has tenure and an instructor that does not…you’ll get quite an emotional response."

The issue was first raised by the incomparable Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times in 2004 who wrote that "Several direct-mail pieces issued for Obama’s primary campaign said he was a law professor at the University of Chicago. He is not. He is a senior lecturer (now on leave) at the school. In academia, there is a vast difference between the two titles. Details matter."

But last week, after the Clinton campaign attack, the University of Chicago Law School entered the fray, seemingly siding with Obama.

Wrote the media office of the school: "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 have 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."

In other words, Obama never held the title of professor but he "served as a professor." He was a lecturer, then a senior lecturer. "Senior Lecturers are considered to be members of the Law School faculty and are regarded as professors," says the law school.

That was enough for our friends at Factcheck.org though it was not enough for Lynn Sweet.

Here’s something interesting, though.

If you go back and look at the old archived web pages of the University of Chicago Law School, it actually lists Obama under "Faculty and Senior Lecturers." (See it HERE.)

So perhaps senior lecturers were considered faculty….but for whatever reason there was some differentiation on the web page where they were listed. Obama’s page can be seen HERE.

What do you think?

- jpt

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