January 3, 2008

How were Bill and Hillary Clinton different — as law professors?

I've been reading Carl Bernstein's book "A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton," and this comparison of the two as law professors caught my eye. (Had you forgotten that they both taught at the University of Arkansas Law School?)
Hillary's style was confident, aggressive, take-charge, and much more structured than Bill's. "All business," a colleague said. Her questions to students were tough and demanding. Bill almost never put his students on the spot; rather, he maintained an easy dialogue with them. His conversational approach often gave students the run of the class, and he let them filibuster.

"If you were unprepared, she would rip you pretty good, but not in an unfair way," recalled Woody Bassett, who became good friends of both, and worked in many Clinton political campaigns. "She made you think. She challenged you. If she asked you a question about a case and you gave an answer, well then — here comes another question. Whereas in Bill Clinton's classes, it was much more laid-back." In class Hillary never mentioned her work on the impeachment inquiry."
(Hmmm... she never mentions her work on the Nixon impeachment inquiry these days either. I wonder why.)
Bill was far more open about discussing political issues with his students, whether Nixon's impeachment or Roe v. Wade, on which he spent several weeks. The subject of his constitutional law course more naturally lent itself to political questions than Hillary's.
(She taught criminal law, criminal procedure, and trial advocacy.)
He was regarded as the easiest grader in the law school. Hillary's exams were tough, and her grading commensurate with what she expected law students to know. There was little doubt that she was the better teacher, possessed with "unusual ability to absorb a huge amount of facts and boil them down to the bottom line," Bassett thought. Clinton was more likely to go at a subject in a circular way, looking at it from every angle and sometimes never coming to a conclusion. But usually his was the more interesting class, because of the passion and knowledge with which he addressed legal questions related to everyday events.
If you were going to be a law professor, which model would you choose, Bill or Hillary? Or is some blend of the two preferable? Assume you'd have to be the Bill-type professor or the Hillary — no blends! Which would you try to be? Is your choice based on what you think is better? What is easier? What will make you more popular? Or is it dictated by your ingrained personality?

If the passage above were all you knew about two individuals, which one would you think would be better suited to the presidency? Or would some blend of the two be preferable?

(Althouse's questions to readers are tough and demanding. Feel free to answer them, at the risk of getting more questions, or to go at them in a circular way and perhaps never come to a conclusion. )


Bob said...

Is it possible that he taught in the manner of a stereotypical Democrat, and she in the manner of a stereotypical Republican?

Roger J. said...

The political scientist Richard Neustadt pointed out 40 some odd years ago that the real power the President has is the power to persuade. If the only possible choice is one or other, I'd go with Bill's style (I submit that HRC's style gave us the failed 1993 health care initiative). Of course, Neustadt's points were made in a day before the power that flowed to the president in matters of national security, and there, HRC's style might be more useful. How's that for a straddle?
The "one-hand, other hand" formulation.

Patm said...

You know, Prof. Althouse - you've just asked a very critical and important question: why doesn't Hillary ever talk about her work on the Nixon impeachment inquiry? She talks up her resume all the time, even makes up "dangerous assignments" as First Lady, but never brings up what some would consider her signal professional accomplishment. Why, indeed?

EnigmatiCore said...

"If the passage above were all you knew about two individuals, which one would you think would be better suited to the presidency?"

I know the answer to this joke. The one with the bigger tits!

MadisonMan said...

As an instructor, I would find Bill's style a little nerve-wracking, because you really don't know when you enter the classroom where the class discussion is going to go. A professor like Bill will cede a lot of power to his students. It's also more difficult to get across exactly what you want the students to learn. Maybe that's why his exams were easier: a tacit acknowledgment that they weren't learning very much. (Or maybe he just wanted to be liked).

Hillary's style means more control over the classroom and where the discussion goes, but it also means that it's easier to know that the students are learning what they're supposed to be learning. And since you know that they've had the opportunity to learn what they're supposed to, it's easier to test them on that knowledge.

So I guess I'm a more Hillaryish teacher than Billish. For students who have to talk along a circuitous route to get to the kernel of truth, I'd say that Bill's style would work. But my opinion is that such students are a minority.

KCFleming said...

A male teacher would choose Bill's style.

If he wanted what Bill wanted.

SGT Ted said...

I prefer the style Hillary used for class. I don't think she is suited to be President. She is a borderline Stalinist and a weapons-grade control freak who wants to "provide" for us, like the smothering mom portrayed in Pink Floyds' "The Wall" album.

Mamma's gonna keep baby healthy and clean. yergh.

Trooper York said...

I am shocked that a prominent and respected American Idol blogger such as you is concerning herself with legal education. That you an American Idol blogger are concerning herself with the triviality that is legal education is mind boggling. You refuse to express an opinion on the important questions of the day. Is Paula Abdul’s behavior caused by drugs or psychoses? Will Randy Jackson come up with a new catch phrase? Does Simon have a tell in evaluating contestants by examining his nipples in his tight
T-shirts? Instead you waste our time with mundane details of legal scholarship. I am appalled. The citizens of TV town should ask for their money back.

hdhouse said...

I'll be nice and not make fun of Sgt. Ted's control freakish answer.
I'll also give Roger a "no comment" over the 1993 health care (does he think that health care is resolved by another method now? or possibly possibly possibly were there a number of currents dooming the entire venture to defeat - as is always the case in health care reform).

oh, and PatC - "some would consider her signal professional accomplishment"....for the simple reason that if you achieve your signal accomplishment at 26...well, Einstein did I guess but not many people hit the home run at the first at bat and never swing at another pitch.

rhetorical flourishes often fall flat when devoid of meaning.

I will give the Gee Opie R's on this board a typical failing grade for assuming that the teaching style should remain the same when the real question is some styles are better suited to different course content.

I would expect someone teaching procedures to be a grinder on the facts..and perhaps con law has a good deal of introspection to it and requires a broader examination - no one dies from a mistake in con law (or do they) but real people are intimately effected by procedural boo-boo's.

Then if follows that certain "types" are better suited to certain sub-subjects....Bill is expansive, Hillary is a stickler. There is no question that Bill's intellect and general mindset would be ideal for broad considerations and Hillary's perceived nitpicking would tend toward another direction.

So my answer would be I would not enroll in a course in con law where hillary were the teacher as i would think the course would be better taught by bill.

Simon said...

I'd be Hillary. It likely involves more work, but I think it better serves the students as a whole. Bill's model seems easier and likely to ill-serve students who are less assertive, opinionated and/or garrulous than others.

James said...

I don't know everyone else's law school experiences, but Bill's style sounds almost exactly like my Con Law professor this last semester, while Hillary's is just like the more "rule-based" subjects like contracts and civil procedure. Of course, since you are Con Law as well, and I don't know your style, so my subject-matter argument might not work.

Personally, I liked the Hillary approach better. With the Con Law professor, half the class loved his style, and the other half hated it. I just think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the majority of students most likely will not be dealing with Con Law as much, and the approach to Con Law is definitely quite different than some of the other fields.

Ann Althouse said...

Trooper York said..."I am shocked that a prominent and respected American Idol blogger such as you is concerning herself with legal education. That you an American Idol blogger are concerning herself with the triviality that is legal education is mind boggling. You refuse to express an opinion on the important questions of the day."

Just marking time until the new season begins. But, hey, did you see the new episode of "Wife Swap"? Amazing insanity!

Roger J. said...

Thanks for the no-comment on HRC's health care initiative HD--For the record, I am one who believes that health care is in need of some reform; I am one who also believes that our political system does not support the "one big fix" approach the HRCs initiative represented. The numerous currents you (correctly) cite require precisely the kind of approach that Bill Clinton's pedagogy supports--requires incrementalism and numerous compromises and not the whole thing or nothing. I am sure you have read Brad DeLong's criticism of HRC's managerial style--and that style is refected in her pedagogy.

Trooper York said...

Just as I thought!!! You refuse to express an opinion on Simon’s nipples. I thought this was a breast blog!

KCFleming said...

It's possible a dogmatic pedagogist like Hillary might take advice from Bill the randy Machiavellian, and accomplish something among the faculty at said law school.

But I suspect over time the paranoia afflicting the Red Queen will prove insurmountable and eventually consume her. In a University, it might lead to minor but vicious politics, either cementing her tenure as Dean or leading to her eviction.

In a Presidency, it would be a Nixonian disaster.

Peter V. Bella said...

but never brings up what some would consider her signal professional accomplishment. Why, indeed?

Hillary was one of many lawyers who worked on the impeachment. Her role was the equivalent of an intern. Only the experienced lawyers were allowed to actually participate.

The same as if she became president; she would be an intern.

Laura Reynolds said...

Nothing more credible than a critique from "good friend" Woody Bassett.

As to style, both can work, for me I preferred a structured class. Weeds out the BSers.

DaLawGiver said...

I would choose the Bill model but I do think some type of blend would be preferable depending on which course I was teaching. As a master instructor and an instructor supervisor in the Air Force I had the opportunity to observe and evaluate lots of different teachings styles and models. Ten years of work in the public sector performing similar tasks gave me the opportunity to see some of the best and the worst teachers/trainers/instructors out there. Your personality definitely plays a role, as does your sex, in which style you use. More men tend to teach like Bill and more women tend to teach like Hillary. For me the Bill style is much easier and more fun. The Hillary style works well but you don't make as many friends.

My military side would choose the more autocratic Hillary model for president while my non-military side knows that the President can't control congress like a general controls his troops. In the end I would say the Bill model is better suited to the presidency.

Cedarford said...

Patm said...
You know, Prof. Althouse - you've just asked a very critical and important question: why doesn't Hillary ever talk about her work on the Nixon impeachment inquiry?

There are two reasons, IMO. Neither related to Henhouse's "pinnacle life achievement theory".

1. She failed her DC Bar exam. Something that was kept secret even from her friends and law associates until 2003. She was recruited to the Watergate Committee by Yale Lefties who thought her getting through the Exam - 85% did - was a given. It wasn't. As a non-lawyer, she was then given "research" and scutwork jobs on the Watergate staff.

2. Watergate was about removing and discrediting a man elected by one of the widest popular margins in history. Much of that divisive battle was on legitimate grounds, just as her husband's impeachment 25 years later was on lying and obstruction of justice. But a good deal of it was payback for Nixons "McCarthyite" persecution of Alger Hiss and "innocent Jews". The Left-Jewish element so influential in media and law had gunned for Nixon for decades and they finally bagged him.
The general public blamed Nixon, but also knew and blamed the unaccountable Elites that hated Nixon had finally gotten the man they just elected by huge margins. And, with the McGovernites in charge, started a period of crazy legislation and American decline overseas starting with S Vietnam being abandoned, domestically with exploding random crime and the Ford-Carter economy, inflation, joblessness....reversed only when Reagan was in office and only slowly then.
Ironically, when the Soviets fell, we got proof that Hiss and the Jews Nixon went after at HUAC were indeed communists who DID take orders from Soviet controllers. (Nixon commmented later he didn't go after targets the FBI brought to HUAC because they were Jews - but other than Hiss and Whitaker Chambers - all the key communists he prosecuted happened to be Jews.)

It is still thought of as a divisive, awful period of America, one that boomers now in peak influence vividly remember and which younger generations are looking at more objectively and realizing only the media and Left remember them fondly. And drawing contrasts with Bill Clinton's impeachment. It is not good for Hillary, running for President, to remind people she was a player in both impeachments, and the ill consequences that surrounded and followed them. As a low-level Nixon-nailer, and as a moral enabler and adamant defender of Bill's moral lapses and obstruction of justice and against his being disbarred.

The more people know of Hillary's "contributions" to the 70s, the higher her negatives go.

Either case is tough on Hillary's ego. As SGT Ted said, she is a major league control freak and Watergate reminds her of her failure and loss of career opportunities (she had 3 jobs lined up in DC hers for asking when she passed the DC Bar exam) - or puts her front and center for critics comparing Watergate machinations to her Clintonista machinations.
PS - Interestingly enough, her Bar Exam failure - Watergate period was the end of Hillary's making it on her own. She had passed the podunk Arkansas Bar exam after tubing the DC one and her slumming down to Fayettville Law School was greased by Bill's first nepotic reward for her...Using his "good ol' boy network" he had cultivated since being Sen Fulbright's well-liked aide while at Georgetown, Bill wheedled a "trailing spouse" deal at the university. Hire me, and the students will love me, but you have to hire my wife - who will work tirelessly with steely determination..

Everything after that was Bill opening doors, pushing her apoointments and promotions and Hillary working remorselessly, seeking control of what she was handed.

titus08 said...

Could you imagine if NYC would have caucuses?

It would be fabulous. There would be red velvet ropes, at fabulous old school clubs like The Saint and everyone would be fierce and full of attitude.

That would be kind of cool.

Bitch, no you aren't voting for him.

Kirk Parker said...


FDR and Truman would be shocked to learn they didn't have much power in the national-security arena. Or, perhaps I just misunderstand you [Occam yadda yadda ... :-) ]

As far as the question, I really tried to split the difference in the only classroom teaching I've done. It was an Intro/Intermediate (i.e. accellerated) programming class for UW* Extension, and as a result most of the students were adults already working in programming or a related field. So while I did keep a Hillaryesque insistence on covering all the material--the instructors for the following courses would have killed me if I didn't--I also tried to give the students as much leeway as possible in bringing up their prior experience, war stories, etc.

*That's the real UW, by the way, not Ann's fine Midwest imitation..... ;-)

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

I had one teacher who followed the Hillary example for the first two weeks of a 9 week course; in the third week he switched to Bill. He told us as long as were prepared for class we would have Bill; if one week we weren't prepared, as a class, to discuss the material Hillary would be back.

we were always prepared to discuss.

titus08 said...

The NYC caucus would have a Yoga Class; Botox Station; Dog Exercise Area; a Gym; and K Lo in the corner wearing an XXXL Romney shirt,

SGT Ted said...

I like your vision, titus. :)

mtrobertsattorney said...

As for Hillary flunking the DC Bar Exam, this should come as no surprise. She has always had trouble answering questions.

Trooper York said...

I want to be clear that the Simon I was referring to was Simon Cowell of American Idol, not the ubiquitous commenter on these pages. I am sure that the professor has no opinion about our Simon’s nipples and should not voice one if she did. Please see the attached footnotes regarding appropriate blog mistress behavior, inappropriate salacious questions by an inebriated commenter, and Joseph Orton’s pictorial essay regarding the aureoles of English schoolboys of the 1970’s.

Anthony said...

>Is it possible that he taught in the manner of a stereotypical Democrat, and she in the manner of a stereotypical Republican?

Considering that in all of law scholl, I had only one professor who was openly a Republican, two who may have been, while most of rest were clearly to the left of even the NYS Democratics, I could not tell you.

GM Roper said...

I see Trooper York is off his medications again.

M. Simon said...


Jerri Thompson

Sarah said...

I've always gotten better grades in the Hillary-style classes. Professors of the Bill type were also the kind who would forget we had class some weeks, who wondered why we wanted grades on our assignments back *before* the day of the final, and who thought it was a good idea to give extra credit only for those students who would attend their weekly peace rallies. Even my Sunday School teaching style is closer to Hillary's than Bill's, and I work with tiny, giggly, 8-year-old girls.

M. Simon said...

Ann's UW has a very fine plasma physics dept that is tops in IEC Fusion.

Bob's Blog said...

"dictated by your ingrained personality?"

Name Withheld said...

Without knowing whether to believe the story about Bill's sexual assault on a female student while he was a law professor at Arkansas, I couldn't answer the hypothetical question posed about which professor I would prefer.

Here is the story reported by Daniel J. Harris & Teresa Hampton of Capitol Hill Blue:

"In 1974, a female student at the University of Arkansas complained that then-law professor Bill Clinton tried to prevent her from leaving his office during a conference. She said he groped her and forced his hand inside her blouse. Clinton claimed the student ''came on'' to him and she left the school shortly after the incident. Reached at her home in Texas last week, the former student confirmed the incident, but declined to go public with her account. Several former students at the University have confirmed the incident in confidential interviews and said there were other reports . . . ."


Without knowing whether that story is true (unfortunately, the MSM never investigated such “private” matters), I would rather have had Hillary as a professor.

Anonymous said...
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SukieTawdry said...

Why doesn't Hillary (third in the hearts of Iowa Democratic caucus goers) ever speak to her experience on the impeachment inquiry? I don't know but, during the 2000 election, the lawyer who supervised the 200+ young attorneys among whom Hillary toiled doing the Committee's legal grunt work (and whose name escapes me) had a piece in the WSJ about Hillary's performance. He said she was one of but a handful of his young charges who he did not recommend for future government appointments. Couple that with her failure to pass the DC bar and you perhaps have a picture contrary to the romantic tale the Clinton's have always told about how Hillary gave up a brilliant career of her own in Washington to be Mrs. Bill Clinton in Arkansas.

And, if I were interested in actually learning law, I guess I'd want Hillary. If I were looking for some BS easy grade credits, it'd be Bill all the way.

Anonymous said...
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CC said...

Why should anyone believe anything this Woody guy is saying? Not exactly an objective source.

Trooper York said...

I will have you know that I proudly self-medicate. And when I am unable to do so, I am not to proud to go to group therapy with my good friends Johnnie Walker, Jim Beam, Jose Cuervo, and my dear old grand dad.

Kev said...

Theo--I would have rather had a musicology prof like yours than the ones I had, who were so dry that they sucked the life completely out of the music; they almost made the Grout book seem interesting by comparison! (You'll get that reference even if nobody else does, but for everyone else, let's put it this way: Grout also wrote a "short" history of opera that was two volumes long. I'd hate to have seen his comprehensive one...)

I suppose I should actually say that I would have preferred your prof over mine, provided that he had stated in the syllabus that it would be better to do the readings on one's own for the tests. I've had off-the-wall profs like that before, and it worked fine as long as the reading was done independently. And yes, the class sessions with that type was always wildly entertaining.

Kev said...

Make that were always wildly entertaining. Bleh. I really did have good English profs--I swear!--but I never had to write anything for them at one in the morning.

Anonymous said...
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Beldar said...

cedarford (4:48 pm): I think it is entirely possible that Hillary's failing the DC bar has something to do with her not discussing her work on the Nixon impeachment inquiry, but I'd want to at least see a detailed time-line and have more than speculation before I did more than, ahem, speculate about that. (Compare Fred Thompson's contemporaneous work, which by all accounts was substantive, including the posing of the question that revealed the existence of the Oval Office tapes, and by most accounts garnered Thompson admirers from both sides of the aisles.)

But your take, or recollection, of the dynamics of Watergate is badly flawed. There is no doubt that what did in Nixon was the converging opinion of Republicans across the board with conservative Democrats to the effect that Nixon's actions were simply outside the pale. How old were you in 1974, I wonder? I'm guessing either very old, or very young.

Prof. A: Your mention of the courses that Hillary taught was almost a throw-away. To me, they're extremely revealing. I don't know what "tier" Arkansas Law School was in then or is in now, but I'm sure its best students would have been capable of spotting -- and exposing/gossiping about -- a marginal intellect purporting to teach ConLaw.

Crim Pro, though, is often (and lamentably) taught in law school in exactly the same fashion as it's taught in bar review courses. It's the kind of course in which discipline and preparation could certainly conceal a pedestrian intellect.

Which is what I think Hillary has, especially as compared to Bill. Which makes it all the more puzzling to me that she flunked the DC Bar exam. I could more easily have imagined her doing very poorly at Yale Law than failing the DC Bar.

Bill is fascinating and tragically flawed. Hillary is fascinating and repulsive and frightening. I'd have dropped out of law school for a semester rather than endure a class taught by her -- any class. I'd drive 90 minutes three times a week to attend a law school class taught in any subject by Bill, especially if it were in a venue appropriate for his conduct -- like a prison.

Maxine Weiss said...

Watergate had nothing to do with the Nixon impeachment.

Nixon was impeached because he went to China---on a diplomatic trade mission, that we are all still suffering the effects of today.

He was punished for going over there against his advisors and the public's pleas.

Anonymous said...

Counter intuitively, I'd like to be Bill, but unless I really knew the subject I'd have to be Hillary. That goes for being a student as well. When I really am confident in a subject, I can freestyle it, play with it, have fun, create. If I am only okay, I have to work at it, and sweat, and grind it out - practice my scales and arpeggios.

I hate that. It's like being grounded. However, if I were the student in a class I had to work at, then I'd want Hillary because you at least know it's possible. With the Bill thing, you have to have innate talent and you can't sweat that into existence.

Bill's approach should not be confused with being a fuck-up. It's different.