Much ado about Barack Obama's offer of 'tenure'

Thomas Lifson
Was Barack Obama offered a tenured position at the University of Chicago Law School? Why don't law professors there remember such an offer?

The New York Times was the latest source to indicate that he had, in an article
by Jodi Kantor yesterday titled, "Teaching Law, Testing Ideas, Obama Stood Slightly Apart."

The article apparently set up a buzz among some University of Chicago Law School professors who could not remember news of an appointments committee vote. Tenure is a bureaucratic process, as anyone who has spent much time on a faculty understands. People usually know about offers of tenure. It's a  big deal: you are joining a club, especially at a renowned professional school.

Jim Lindgren of the Volokh Conspiracy has spoken to 7 (as of this writing) law school professors who remember no such offer.

A scandal? Apparently not.

I take my hat off to Jim Lindgren, who provides in his original post and updates a good account of what has happened.

In my view, based on the information I see, it looks like this may be a genuine misunderstanding. From Kantor's explanation, evidently the Dean told her that he was sure the faculty would have voted tenure, and he told Obama it was for an offer with tenure.

This wasn't a formal offer, obviously. That would require a vote of the appointments committee. It was more of an exploratory offer. The offer came in the wake of his failed Congressional campaign. He had been teaching there already. I can imagine a dean exploring such a possibility with Barack Obama, who was just beaten by two-to-one and might be persuaded to turn to teaching law as his primary career, with a good enough offer.

I know how this works. Earlier in my career I was verbally offered (non-tenured but flattering) academic positions at a couple of nice universities while teaching elsewhere. I never received formal offers because I turned them both down. But I still recall the offers, minus most details, as pleasant memories, and I suspect something like that is true for Obama. In  his mind an exploratory talk would seem like an offer, even if it didn't ever reach the stage of a committee vote.

An honest misunderstanding in my book.

Hat tip: Clarice Feldman
Was Barack Obama offered a tenured position at the University of Chicago Law School? Why don't law professors there remember such an offer?

The New York Times was the latest source to indicate that he had, in an article
by Jodi Kantor yesterday titled, "Teaching Law, Testing Ideas, Obama Stood Slightly Apart."

The article apparently set up a buzz among some University of Chicago Law School professors who could not remember news of an appointments committee vote. Tenure is a bureaucratic process, as anyone who has spent much time on a faculty understands. People usually know about offers of tenure. It's a  big deal: you are joining a club, especially at a renowned professional school.

Jim Lindgren of the Volokh Conspiracy has spoken to 7 (as of this writing) law school professors who remember no such offer.

A scandal? Apparently not.

I take my hat off to Jim Lindgren, who provides in his original post and updates a good account of what has happened.

In my view, based on the information I see, it looks like this may be a genuine misunderstanding. From Kantor's explanation, evidently the Dean told her that he was sure the faculty would have voted tenure, and he told Obama it was for an offer with tenure.

This wasn't a formal offer, obviously. That would require a vote of the appointments committee. It was more of an exploratory offer. The offer came in the wake of his failed Congressional campaign. He had been teaching there already. I can imagine a dean exploring such a possibility with Barack Obama, who was just beaten by two-to-one and might be persuaded to turn to teaching law as his primary career, with a good enough offer.

I know how this works. Earlier in my career I was verbally offered (non-tenured but flattering) academic positions at a couple of nice universities while teaching elsewhere. I never received formal offers because I turned them both down. But I still recall the offers, minus most details, as pleasant memories, and I suspect something like that is true for Obama. In  his mind an exploratory talk would seem like an offer, even if it didn't ever reach the stage of a committee vote.

An honest misunderstanding in my book.

Hat tip: Clarice Feldman