The New York Times: Best Professor. Very Evenhanded. Great Hair!: Brett Kavanaugh, as Seen by His Law Students

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“[O]n the whole, in 12 sets of evaluations spanning 700 pages, there was almost only glowing praise for Judge Kavanaugh’s teaching. More than a few students said he was the most impressive law school professor they had encountered.”

‘Best Professor.’ ‘Very Evenhanded.’ ‘Great Hair!’: Brett Kavanaugh, as Seen by His Law Students
By Adam Liptak
The New York Times
July 19, 2018

Anonymous evaluations of professors by their students can be caustic or catty. But they are also unfailingly candid, and collectively they paint a revealing picture of a teacher’s strengths and weaknesses.

Over the last decade, about 350 law students at Harvard, Yale and Georgetown expressed views on classes offered by Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. With rare exceptions, they praised his mastery of legal materials, intellectual rigor, fair-mindedness and accessibility.

“I honestly believe I took a class that was instructed by a future Supreme Court justice,” a Georgetown student wrote in 2007.

[O]n the whole, in 12 sets of evaluations spanning 700 pages, there was almost only glowing praise for Judge Kavanaugh’s teaching. More than a few students said he was the most impressive law school professor they had encountered.

“Significantly better than any full-time faculty I’ve had,” a Harvard student wrote. “Kavanaugh is the best professor I have had in law school,” wrote another. “Best class I’ve taken at HLS by a mile,” said a third.

Judge Kavanaugh taught once at Georgetown and once at Yale but did most of his teaching at Harvard, where he was hired by Justice Elena Kagan, who was the law school’s dean before her appointment first as solicitor general and then as a Supreme Court justice by President Barack Obama. Some Harvard students said his class attracted a larger than usual proportion of conservative students, particularly in the early years.

“There was a heavy Federalist Society tilt in the enrollment of the class,” one student wrote, “but Judge Kavanaugh’s presentation seemed very evenhanded.”

Another student agreed. “While most of the class shared rather conservative views,” the student wrote, “the judge presented the other side quite well, even though he likely shared most of those conservative views.” The student added that “many of the HLS professors could learn from his acceptance of views across the political spectrum.”

At Harvard, he would typically teach during a brief winter term in January for 12 weekday mornings in a row. He mostly taught about the separation of powers, but recently, and perhaps propitiously, he turned his attention to the Supreme Court.

The classes were three hours long, and they generally started with a discussion of current events. In the afternoons, he held office hours, where students said they felt welcome to talk about the class, the law and their futures. Most nights, he invited six or eight students to dinner. There was a party the night before the last class.

He was, one student wrote, “the most accessible prof outside of class I have ever had.” Another said that “access outside of class was simply unprecedented.”

Ms. [Colleen Roh] Sinzdak went on to serve as a law clerk to Judge Merrick B. Garland, whose nomination to the Supreme Court was blockaded by Senate Republicans, and to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. She said Judge Kavanaugh was supportive every step of the way.

On Thursday, scores of Judge Kavanaugh’s former students at Harvard released a letter describing him as “a rigorous thinker, a devoted teacher and a gracious person.”

Judge Kavanaugh’s class at Yale, in 2011, was on national security law. It included a field trip to Washington, where students attended a Supreme Court argument in a major separation-of-powers case and met with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, whom Judge Kavanaugh now hopes to replace, and Paul D. Clement, a former United States solicitor general.

Fifteen students submitted course evaluations, and all contained superlatives. The class was “outstanding,” “excellent,” “my favorite,” “the best,” “possibly the best,” “one of the most fascinating,” “incredible” and “fantastic.”

“It was very refreshing,” one student wrote, “to have a professor who has some work experience and who is not liberal.”

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