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Barack Obama: From President to Law School Professor?
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Obama may be teaching law school again soon.

  • With the conclusion of Barack Obama’s two-term presidency, many are asking what will be next for the former U.S. President.
  • Some speculate Obama will lead a quiet post oval office life as have many presidents before him.
  • Others feel Obama, a former constitutional law professor will once again be bitten by the professorial bug.
  • Find out through this article why we believe it will be the latter and not the former.

Now that the 2016 Presidential Election is over, we the people of the United States are asking the big question—what will Barack Obama do now? After an eventful 8 years in office, the former president has settled nicely into his new life outside of the White House. Even though the Obamas are not in office, Barack and Michelle still keep busy between attending conferences, giving keynote speeches, and performing jury duty in Chicago. They even had time to tour Harvard as they dropped off their daughter at college.

So what’s next? Some speculate that Obama may join the Democratic National Convention to help fundraise for future campaigns or advocate for the United States in International Conferences. The biggest guess is that Obama will return as a professor to teach law at Columbia University.


For those who are unaware, Barack worked as a lecturer for 12 years at the University of Chicago and was well liked by students across campus. His classes were engaging and challenging; leaving students even more excited to come to the next class. Years of giving lectures improved his public speaking skills until he became the well-spoken orator we know today. With his skill set and background in education, will he return to his old job or does he have something new in his sights?

What Is Obama Doing Today?

The ex-president has been busy this year. Here is a small timeline with a few of the things he has been up to since leaving the oval office:

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  • May 3 – Unveiled new plans to open a future presidential center in Chicago (his old neighborhood where his legal career began), which is to be a center for youth and community programs.
  • May 7 – Gave an acceptance speech after receiving the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for his work with the Affordable Care Act.
  • June – Family Vacation! The entire Obama family took an exotic trip to Bali. The area holds special significance for Barack as he lived there previously as a child, before returning to his birthplace in Hawaii.
  • August – The Obamas were spotted on the Harvard campus escorting their daughter Malia to her dorm. She is set to begin classes as a freshman this fall.
  • September 20 – Barack Obama presented the keynote address at an event held by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • September 25 – President Obama participated with his former vice president, Joe Biden in a fundraiser for the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children.

Since leaving the White House, the former president has delivered more than 9 paid speeches across the world, netting about $400,000 per speech. The Obamas use the $2 million earned from these talks to support job programs for low-income people in Chicago.

His heart will always belong to Chicago, but the former president has a home somewhere else as well, Columbia University. As a young man, Barack took classes at Occidental College in Los Angeles before transferring to Columbia to finish his degree. He then went to on to attend Harvard University.

Obama’s Early Days at Harvard:

Obama first began class at Harvard University in 1988. Within his first year at the college, he was selected to be an editor for the Harvard Law Review, based on his academic achievement and an impressive writing submission. The very next year, he made headlines as the first black president of the publication. His close peers at the time stated that he won the election because he was able to convince a crucial group of conservatives that if they voted for him, he would protect their interests. And these same communication skills would later be used to build up trust with communities in the South Side of Chicago.

As the first black president, the event was highly publicized and Obama received a lot of attention in the media. It was this attention that led him to land a job out of college.

Barack proudly ended his Harvard schooling with a J.D. magna cum laude, when he moved to live in Chicago.

Obama’s Teaching Experience:

One reason folks are convinced he may go back to lecturing is that he already possesses extensive classroom experience. He was hired to teach at University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004. In 2004, he was elected to the United States Senate. The president has referenced this period of his life before in speeches and debates.

In fact, on the campaign trail, Obama referred to himself as a “constitutional law professor” and proclaimed that he knew more about the constitution than your average presidential candidate. This comment stirred up quite a bit of controversy as Hillary Clinton pointed out that he never held that title. The controversy grew so large that the university officially released a statement on the matter:

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 has 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.”

Despite the initial contention surrounding his statements, the main fact remains true. Obama did teach several courses involving constitutional law and race theory at the University of Chicago and was labeled a senior lecturer.

What Is It Like to Take His Class?

You might wonder what it would be like to be taught by Barack himself? Let’s remember, Obama is known to for his sensational speaking skills. Even the Washington Post has cited his Selma 50th Anniversary speech as one that “every child should read in school.” It was here during his teaching years that he honed this ability.

Overall, students seemed to like him as a professor and repeatedly left him good reviews. According to an article titled What It Was Like To Take A Class Taught By Barack Obama, students recalled “a thoughtful, passionate, challenging, and socially conscious mentor who pushed liberals and conservatives alike to challenge their assumptions.”

Professor Obama taught three courses:

  1. Due Process and the Equal Protection Areas of the Constitution
  2. Voting Rights
  3. Racism and Law

Unfortunately, Barack did not feel welcome among his new cohorts. The Chicago staff had a reputation for leaning more towards the right politically and Obama said that he often felt like he was an outsider. And while liberal students tended to flock to his courses, they didn’t necessarily find an easy lecturer or a space devoid of debate. Barack openly criticized ineffective liberal policies and failures, citing unsuccessful legal attempts to fix problems.

But that wasn’t all. Obama played devil’s advocate in an effort to encourage students to arrive at their own conclusions organically. A former student turned law professor, D. Daniel Sokol remembers his experience as a student in Obama’s lectures, “For people who thought they were getting a doctrinal, rah-rah experience, it wasn’t that kind of class.” When he wasn’t stirring up classroom debate, he stayed on the fence about most issues; not wanting to push his views on students.

That was one key component to his lessons. He tended to stay neutral or stick to a middle ground when lecturing. Not only was this looked down upon but some staff openly disagreed with Barack on the practice, stating that his “politically neutral” attitude alienated him because his peers never knew where he stood on the issues.

In especially heated debates, he would draw out uncomfortable topics, forcing students to confront tough questions. In one class about race, he “imitated the way clueless white people talked. ‘Why are your friends at the housing projects shooting each other?’ he asked in a mock-innocent voice.” While some might find this blunt approach off-putting, a steady fan base was growing around his classes.

As word of his classes spread, more students began enrolling in his courses. In addition, his reviews and evaluation scores skyrocketed. Some students went as far as to call themselves his groupies.

For Barack, putting schooling into practice was a big part of his philosophy and you could often find him actively contributing in the areas of which he taught. For example, while teaching a class on districting and campaign financing, Obama helped to create a leading casebook in the field. He also improvised his own textbook for his political seminar on racism and law.

While his classes were extremely popular, the lecturer faced other troubles with fellow teachers. Some felt that he wasn’t involved in the school very much. Because he was working as a teacher and a politician at the time, he felt that he didn’t have much time to focus on smaller school issues. While staff debated over citation rules for next year’s students, Barack wanted to focus on something else.

Although he was offered tenure positions several times, he always turned them down and instead focused on his political career. He hasn’t taught a class since 2002.

Fun Fact: Did you know that Obama was the first sitting president to publish an academic paper?

Why Columbia University?

A source told Pagesix.com, “There has been talk of him teaching at Columbia Law School, but nothing has been confirmed.” Amid speculation, we can make a guess at why the ex-president would choose to teach at Columbia. In addition to its shining reputation as a top-tier law school, Columbia is also Obama’s alma mater. He attended Columbia from 1981 to 1983 in pursuit of his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a specialty in International Relations.

Columbia has also offered to house the presidential library in what is rumored to be a race between Columbia and Chicago University. Columbia has already donated land in New York to the cause if it is selected. If they do win the bid, it would be convenient for Barack to watch over the library while in the area.

A current running joke is the idea that Obama can meet up with another Columbia staff member, Amal Clooney, who is teaching civil rights on campus. Obama has long been a friend of actor George Clooney and his wife, Amal, even visiting them in Italy earlier this year. At least he can sit with someone at lunch on his first day of class!

Final Thoughts

At this point, it seems clear that a position in higher education could very well be in the future for the former president of the United States. With a successful teaching career from Chicago University and his experience in office, many are certain Barack Obama will have much to teach to the newest class of future legal professionals.

If the president does choose to return to education, let us hope he brings back his passion for bi-partisanship and lively debate. Even the most boring of lectures can be brightened with a professor who knows how to ask the right questions. Many are certain that if his old “groupies” were asked, they would gladly take another class from the former president in a heartbeat.

Obama enjoyed this period of his life so much that he authored a book about it titled The Audacity of Hope, in which he wrote:

“I loved the law school classroom: the stripped-down nature of it, the high-wire act of standing in front of a room at the beginning of each class with just blackboard and chalk, the students taking measure of me, some intent or apprehensive, others demonstrative in their boredom, the tension broken by my first question — “What’s this case about?” — and the hands tentatively rising, the initial responses and me pushing back against whatever arguments surfaced.”

See the following articles for more information:


Guest post by: Brittany Peacock



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