Obama In The Classroom

, Malcolm A. Kline, 1 Comment

We had previously written that with his “rate my professor.com ratings” wiped clean, no negative evaluations of President Obama’s tenure as a lecturer at the University of Chicago exist. Now, the intrepid staff at The Washington Examiner has actually dug up negative trendlines of his years there.

“Within a few years, he had become a rock-star professor with hordes of devoted students,” Time magazine claimed in 2008.

“Most scores on his teaching evaluations were positive to superlative,” the New York Times claimed in 2008. “Some students started referring to themselves as his groupies.”

“When Barack Obama arrived at the Law School in 1991, faculty and students alike sensed that he had a bright future ahead of him,” the University of Chicago Law School’s alumni site, The Record, rhapsodized online in the spring of 2009. “As the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review, he was clearly an accomplished scholar with a fine mind and his choice of careers.”

“And once he began teaching, his strong oratorical skills and his ability to communicate complex ideas made his political ambitions appear credible. Craig Cunningham, ’93, one of the President’s first students and a supporter of his teacher’s political ambitions, felt that Obama was brilliant, talented, and had the potential to be a great leader.”

“That may have been true during his first two years, when he ranked first among the law school’s 40 instructors, with students giving him a rating of 9.7 out of a possible 10,” Richard Pollock reported in The Washington Examiner. “But law student evaluations made available to The Washington Examiner by the university showed that his popularity then fell steadily.”

“In 1999, only 23 percent of the students said they would repeat Obama’s racism class. He was the third-lowest-ranked lecturer at the law school that year. And in 2003, only a third of the student evaluators recommended his classes.”

“His classes were small. A spring 1994 class attracted 14 out of a student body of 600; a spring 1996 class drew 13. In 1997, he had the largest class of his tenure with 49 students. But by then, his student rating had fallen to 7.75. Twenty-two of 40 faculty members ranked higher than Obama.”

An ironic non-sequiter dropped into Jodi Kantor’s otherwise glowing NYT profile is, “Before he helped redraw his own State Senate district, making it whiter and wealthier, he taught districting as a racially fraught study in how power is secured.” Ms. Kantor does not elaborate upon this tantalizing bon mot.

Moreover, as Kantor recounted, in a 1996 interview with the school newspaper Obama said of President Bill Clinton’s efforts to work with Republicans, “On the national level, bipartisanship usually means Democrats ignore the needs of the poor and abandon the idea that government can play a role in issues of poverty, race discrimination, sex discrimination or environmental protection.”

It turns out that the future-president himself, while eschewing efforts to rise above partisanship, was not always acting in the best interests of the poor, even while staying firmly in Democratic Party circles. “Robert Stark, director of the liberal Harold Washington Institute for Research and Policy Studies, told the Examiner that the demolition effort required to clear the way for the new affordable-housing projects advocated by Obama was disastrous for low-income blacks on Chicago’s South Side,” Pollock reported.

“Obviously, when you’re talking about the demolition of housing, there has been a great deal of controversy because poor people were not given an opportunity to come back to the housing that replaced the demolished housing,” Stark, whose institute is based at Northeastern Illinois University, told Pollock.

Pollock recounted that in 1994, Obama the lawyer defended “the Woodlawn Preservation & Investment Corp., controlled by Bishop Arthur Brazier, a South Side Chicago preacher and political operator.”

As Pollock relates, “Things were so bad that the city’s outraged corporation counsel declared that ‘the levying of a fine is not an adequate remedy’ and asked the court for a permanent injunction against WPIC, appointment of a receiver and imposition of a lien on WPIC to pay for repairs, attorneys’ fees and court costs.”

“But Obama did his work so well that in the end, on March 3, 1994, the court simply fined WPIC $50. Only then did Obama tell the court of the forcible removal of tenants in the bitter cold.” 19 below zero to be exact.


Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org.