THE BLOG
10/19/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Coming from the Sunday NY Times : Obama's Former Law Students Give Him an "A" -- and Offer Insight on His Presidency

A major story in this coming Sunday's special New York Times Magazine "college" issue explores Barack Obama's teaching days as a law professor at the University of Chicago. The article by Alexandra Star suggests that the aim was to find out what "kind of president he might make," based on his record there.

It turns out the students he taught for a decade before leaving in 2003 loved him - he was "routinely" rated as one of the best teachers at the law school -- and found him extremely fair minded. He was "more pragmatic than ideological," and used "forensic logic," while also lacing his talks with basketball analogies.

Richard Hess, now an attorney, says, "it was drilled into us from Day 1 that you examined your biases and inclinations. And then, when you made decisions, they were based on sound empirical reasons." Another former student calls him "a street smart academic...He wanted his students to consider the impact laws and judicial opinions had on real people."

Another present day lawyer: "You never would have known he was going to be a liberal senator based on what he said in his courses." In fact, several suggest that his performance in the classroom is a better indicator of what kind of president he would be than his time in the Senate.

"Based on what I saw in the classroom," says Dan Johnson-Weinberger, who lobbies for liberal causes in Illinois, "my guess is that an Obama administration could be summarized in two word: Ruthless pragmatism."

A major story in this coming Sunday's special New York Times Magazine "college" issue explores Barack Obama's teaching days as a law professor at the University of Chicago. The article by Alexandra Star suggests that the aim was to find out what "kind of president he might make," based on his record there.

It turns out the students he taught for a decade before leaving in 2003 loved him - he was "routinely" rated as one of the best teachers at the law school -- and found him extremely fair minded. He was "more pragmatic than ideological," and used "forensic logic," while also lacing his talks with basketball analogies.

Richard Hess, now an attorney, says, "it was drilled into us from Day 1 that you examined your biases and inclinations. And then, whene you made decisions, they were based on sound empirical reasons." Another former student calls him "a street smart academic...He wanted his students to consider the impact laws and judicial opinions had on real people."

Another present day lawyer: "You never would have known he was going to be a liberal senator based on what he said in his courses." In fact, several suggest that his performance in the classroom is a better indicator of what kind of president he would be than his time in the Senate.

"Based on what I saw in the classroom," says Dan Johnson-Weinberger, who lobbies for liberal causes in Illinois, "my guess is that an Obama administration could be summarized in two word: Ruthless pragmatism."

There's also much discussion of how Obama handled racial issues, including his response to being called a "nigger" -- by "an Asian driver in a souped-up Honda."
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Greg Mitchell is editor of Editor & Publisher.