A longtime professor and one-time interim dean of the University of Chicago Law School told The Daily Caller that Barack Obama was never offered tenure, despite the assertions of a New York Times reporter who covers the president and the first family.
“Other faculty members dreamed of tenured positions; [Obama] turned them down,” wrote Times White House Correspondent Jodi Kantor, author of “The Obamas,” in a July 30, 2008 profile of the president’s twelve years as a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School.
And yet, according to longtime University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein, Obama was never actually offered a tenured faculty position.
“I have no idea where Jodi got her story” about the tenure offer, said Epstein, adding that he immediately wrote Kantor to tell her she was wrong. Epstein was, then, a member of the faculty, not the school’s dean
“Tenure offers require votes from faculties approved by the provost, and need a scholarly output. He was approached with the possibility of an entry level position without tenure, but it never got to the faculty for want of interest on his side,” Epstein confirmed via email.
Epstein was the law school’s interim dean during 2001. His account contradicts a claim Kantor has repeatedly made, that a tenure offer came from Dean Daniel Fischel.
“Mr. Obama turned the offer down,” Kantor wrote in 2008. She expanded on that claim later that day, writing for a Times blog. “When the law school tried to hire Mr. Obama after his failed 2000 congressional race, it was for a tenured job.” Kantor wrote. “In our interview, I asked [Fischel] if he meant ‘tenure-track,’ and he said no.”
Fischel could not be reached for comment, but Kantor softened her position when asked via Twitter about Obama’s alleged tenure offer.
“[T]he general idea was that tenure would go through,” Kantor replied. “That said, I don’t know the fine print on the offer.”
That paints a very different picture from the one Kantor presented in 2008.
Soon after Obama lost his 2000 congressional race, Kantor wrote, “the faculty saw an opening and made him its best offer yet: Tenure upon hiring. A handsome salary, more than the $60,000 he was making in the State Senate or the $60,000 he earned teaching part time. A job for Michelle Obama directing the legal clinic.”
Epstein told TheDC that no such opportunity was ever extended to Barack Obama. Fischel, he added, would never have been authorized to make an offer so generous.
“I wish I still had my email to Jodi,” he lamented, “because I wrote Jodi Kantor in no uncertain terms that the matter had never come to the faculty, and that under no circumstances would an offer to Obama be tenured. Indeed I was completely taken aback by the story.”
Epstein drew a clear line of distinction between full tenure and “tenure track” positions — which offered no guarantees but could result in tenure at some future date.
“There was support for a tenure track offer,” he explained, “but the issue did not remain live for long as Obama decided against it. The thought that the law school could have made a tenure offer to a person with no academic writing was out of the question, as far as I was concerned, and I took a lot of heat from people who kept saying that Chicago had abandoned its scholarly standards by contemplating that offer.”
“I have no idea what Fischel said to Obama, but what little discussion [there was] on the faculty side did not deal with tenure.”