2003 Graduate Teaching Awards in the Professional Schools: Cass Sunstein, the Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor of Jurisprudence in the Law School, Political Science, the CollegeBy Peter Schuler
"For many years our students have long appreciated Cass Sunstein's imagination and brilliance--along with his concern for them as people and as important citizens and future leaders--but it is nice once in a while for them to say so aloud and as a group so we can all celebrate this diamond in our midst," said Saul Levmore, Dean and the William B. Graham Professor in the Law School. "Here is a person who stands for all that this great University is about."
In addition to his teaching, Sunstein, who also has an appointment in Political Science, is a prolific author of books and articles and is one of the most quoted legal experts in national publications. He also is a frequent guest of many TV news broadcasts. During the Bush-Gore election dispute, Sunstein offered a reassuring, insightful but matter-of-fact perspective to ABC's Nightline viewers to help them better understand the complex legal issues and arguments. A former clerk to the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, Sunstein also is regularly invited to testify before Congress on a range of public policy issues.
Sunstein can be sighted at the Law School moving at a brisk pace with a thick bundle of books and papers under his arm, sometimes accompanied by his gentle Rhodesian Ridgeback. Successfully balancing a prodigious scholarly output with a full teaching load, he is currently at work on various projects involving the relationship between law and human behavior.
His latest book, Why Societies Need Dissent, will be published this fall by Harvard University Press.
Asked what he hopes students will take away from his classes, Sunstein said, "I guess I'd like them to enjoy the material because it really is fun. I'd also like them to have a sense of the various positions that reasonable people can take on controversial issues, and a desire when they graduate to use and improve the law in the future. It's not critical that we get to every possible aspect of a topic, and I'm much less interested than I used to be in my own opinions.
"The best times are when students see directions and problems that no one has seen before--when their creativity really shows," he said. "A student in my Environmental Law class tackled a very hard, unresolved legal issue and ended up publishing an excellent paper that makes a great contribution to understanding the problem."
The members of the Law faculty are famously collegial and accessible to students, and Sunstein is no exception. The door to his office--a fascinating study in chaos that belies the extraordinary discipline with which he approaches his work--is usually open. Sunstein believes Chicago's Law School differs from most of its peer institutions. "Much more intense and high-energy," he said of the school's atmosphere. "The standards and expectations are always way up there." And the students? "Outstanding and a little bit better every year--like Olympic athletes," he concluded.