News Release: Law, Politics, Teaching

Sep. 23,  2008

Kang Teaches Topics He Learned in Obama's Classroom

As Emory Law associate professor Michael Kang teaches his course this fall election law, he can't help reflecting on the influence of a similar class he took as a student at the University of Chicago Law School—taught by Barack Obama.

Kang was one of a dozen students in the fall of 1998 enrolled in Obama's course titled "Constitutional Law: Equal Protection and Due Process."  

Then a third-year student, Kang echoes the opinions of former students quoted in a recent New York Times Magazine story on Obama in the classroom:

"He had a lot of discussion, was very objective and even-handed. He tried to get the class to think about things in different ways," Kang recalls. "He definitely made us approach every issue from multiple angles, no matter how instinctive our initial response. He wanted us to think from different perspectives, to think critically."

Obama, then a state senator in Illinois, usually met with law classes first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon to accommodate his legislative schedule in the state capital of Springfield.

"He was known as a good teacher, very fair; everyone in the class liked him," says Kang. "He was well-prepared, for someone who didn't spend all his time in academe; he ran his class well."

The subject matter Kang encountered in Obama's class is now a central part of the law professor's own research and teaching.

"I think I try to teach my class in a way that's pretty similar to his," says Kang. "I try to take sensitive partisan issues and present them objectively and evenly, to the degree that you can, and let students figure out the critical issues and value choices for themselves, not make those choices for them."

Kang's one regret? Every year the law school had a fundraising auction in which professors sometimes offered dinners or extra time with students as prizes. Kang regrets he did not bid for a day accompanying Obama during the legislative session. "That would have been a story to tell my grandkids," he says.

Kang’s research focuses on voting rights, race, redistricting, campaign finance and direct democracy.


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