WASHINGTON—The University of Chicago released a statement on Thursday saying Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) “served as a professor” in the law school—but that is a title Obama, who taught courses there part-time, never held, a spokesman for the school confirmed on Friday.
“He did not hold the title of professor of law,” said Marsha Ferziger Nagorsky, an Assistant Dean for Communications and Lecturer in Law at the school, on East 60th St. in Chicago
The U of C statement was posted on the school’s website two days after the Clinton campaign issued a memo headlined “Just Embellished Words: Senator Obama’s Record of Exaggerations & Misstatements.” The memo was generated by the Clinton campaign as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) was put on the defensive for claiming incorrectly that she dodged sniper fire while First Lady when her plane landed in Bosnia.
Another university spokesman, Josh Schonwald, said the Obama campaign did not request that the statement be generated and that it was posted because reporters were calling the school with questions about Obama’s status. However, the Obama campaign was interested in making sure reporters saw the U of C statement.
The university statement said, “From 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama served as a professor in the Law School.” The school probably did not mean to imply that Obama became a University of Chicago professor a year out of law school. But the word “served” is key—Nagorsky said Obama carried out, or served, a function of a professor—teaching a core curriculum course while a senior lecturer—while at the same time not holding down that rank.
At issue in the Clinton memo was Obama’s claims—mostly specifically on several direct mail pieces produced for his 2004 U.S. Senate race-- that said he was a law professor at the university.
Obama graduated Harvard Law School in 1991. He was a lecturer at the U. of Chicago law school between 1992 and 1996. During this time he was an attorney at the law firm of Miner, Barnhill & Galland. In his first years of teaching, he had only one course.
He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1996 and his teaching load eventually increased to three courses a year, less than the load of a professor. Obama won a state Senate seat in 1996. Obama maintained his senior lecturer post from 1996 to 2004, when he took a leave to run for the U.S. Senate.
Nagorsky 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.
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.