Obama Not Law Professor, Just Taught at Law School
In what may be the dumbest political attack of the 2008 campaign — and there are many candidates to choose from — Hillary Clinton is claiming that her lies about being under fire in Bosnia are trumped by Barack Obama claiming that he was a “professor” at the University of Chicago when he was really only a “senior lecturer.”
In response, the university has issued a statement clarifying Obama’s status.
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.
Apparently, the University of Chicago or perhaps law schools generally are different from my experience, in which institutions certainly didn’t “regard” part-timers “as professors” and certainly didn’t refer to their time in those positions that way in official statements.
Regardless, it’s perfectly reasonable for Obama to tout his experience as a “professor” in campaign literature. Nobody who isn’t an academic would understand the difference and “professor” is commonly used as a generic name for someone who teaches college. Within the faculty, the title “professor” (informally, “full professor”) is a very distinct rank. Nontheless, those of us lower on the totem pole would refer to ourselves as “professors” in settings where it was clear we weren’t referring to our academic rank.
I held the title “assistant professor” even though I wasn’t actually assisting any professors. Indeed, the job descriptions of full-time visiting professors, lecturers, assistant professors, associate professors, and (full) professors are essentially identical.
For the Clinton campaign to be touting this issue makes them seem even more desperate and silly than they have in recent weeks.
Photo credit: Xavier Law School