Sen. Obama consistently and falsely claims that he was a law professor. The Sun-Times reported that, "Several direct-mail pieces issued for Obama's primary [Senate] 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." In academia, there's a significant difference: professors have tenure while lecturers do not. [Hotline Blog, 4/9/07; Chicago Sun-Times, 8/8/04]"Professors have tenure while lecturers do not"? You might want to avoid glaring mistakes of your own right at the top of your list of someone else's mistakes. A professor starts out without tenure. (Hillary Clinton herself was a law professor — at the University of Arkansas — who never had tenure.) But, let's proceed.
The University of Chicago Law School put up a statement detailing Obama's relationship with the law school: He was a "lecturer" and a "senior lecturer" and never held the title "Professor of Law."
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.Some law schools use the term "Adjunct Professor" instead of lecturer. Here's a list of adjunct professors at NYU School of Law (where I got my law degree). Here's a list of adjunct professors at the University of Wisconsin Law School, my home school. The term is also used at Brooklyn Law School, where I'm visiting this year. It's a very common term used to dignify the role of the outside lecturer. Outside lecturers contribute a lot to the law school and do it for comparatively very low pay, so the honor is important. To withhold the title "adjunct professor" and use only the title "lecturer" is, I think, show-offy of the school: Association with us is such an honor that we don't need to puff it up the way they do at those lesser schools.
Next, in this Chicago Sun-Times blog post, Lynn Sweet stirred the pot for Hillary:
[Marsha Ferziger Nagorsky, an Assistant Dean for Communications and Lecturer in Law at Chicago] said there is a major distinction between a lecturer and senior lecturer, though both are not full-time positions. She said the status of a senior lecturer is “similar” to the status of a professor and Obama did teach core courses usually handled only by professors. While Obama was also part of the law school community, his appointment was not part of an academic search process and he did not have any scholarly research obligations which professors often do.The question isn't whether it's "degrading" to teach law school without being called a "professor," but whether there's something wrong with applying the term "professor" to someone whose formal title is "lecturer." I think one ought to be careful about this. If your title was "lecturer" and you're applying for a job, you shouldn't say "I was a law professor." Even though it can be defended as not a lie, you're exaggerating and not being strictly scrupulous about the facts. And Clinton's press release didn't say this was a lie. It put it on a list of 10 "embellishments and misstatements." It's fair to say it's an embellishment. [ADDED: Actually, the item says Obama "falsely claims," so she is accusing him of lying. I think that's an overstatement — or, we might say, an embellishment.]
In August of 2004, I wrote a column about Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign literature saying he was a law professor at the U of C when he was a senior lecturer on leave at the school. Neither the school nor anyone in the Obama campaign complained at the time.
The University of Chicago did Obama no favor by saying he was a law professor when he wasn’t. This parsing is not necessary. There is nothing degrading about being a senior lecturer and bringing to students the experience of a professional in the field.
Noam Scheiber at TNR writes about what he sarcastically calls "the great 'law professor' controversy":
As best I can tell, the university regarded Obama as a professor, but didn't officially confer that title on him.See what's going on? It was a list of 10 things, intended to show a pattern of puffery (and to balance the Bosnian sniper idiocy), and people are focusing on one item (admittedly, the first item), which is a distraction from the list as a whole. That's an okay rhetorical move, but excuse me if I see right through it.
I guess I don't see the scandal in Obama describing himself that way. But maybe the voters of Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Indiana will see something I don't...
So, the "law professor" puffery is something on its own. Not all that much, but something. Now, consider the other 9 items, and judge for yourself whether the Clinton campaign has made its point, which melds questions of Obama's honesty to the contention that he lacks experience:
- Obama claimed credit for nuclear leak legislation that never passed.
- Obama misspoke about his being conceived because of Selma.
- Sen. Obama took too much credit for his community organizing efforts.
- Obama's assertion that nobody had indications Rezko was engaging in wrongdoing 'strains credulity.' "
- Obama was forced to revise his assertion that lobbyists 'won't work in my White House.'
- 'Selective, embellished and out-of-context quotes from newspapers pump up Obama's health plan.'
- Sen. Obama said 'I passed a law that put Illinois on a path to universal coverage,' but Obama health care legislation merely set up a task force.
- 'Obama…seemed to exaggerate the legislative progress he made' on ethics reform.
- Obama drastically overstated Kansas tornado deaths during campaign appearance.