June 10, 2004
Vol. 23 No. 18

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    Adrian Vermeule, Professor in the Law School

    By Peter Schuler
    News Office


    For the second time in three years, students at the Law School have cited Adrian Vermeule, Professor in the Law School, for his excellence as a teacher. Inspired by philosopher, educator and Lab School founder John Dewey, and also the son of two distinguished classicists, Vermeule is noted for his ability to create an intensely challenging and focused classroom environment leavened with wry and self-effacing humor.

    Vermeule is the recipient of the annual Graduating Students’ Award for Teaching Excellence. “Adrian has quickly become a centerpiece and star in this Law School, where we take teaching very seriously,” said Saul Levmore, Dean of the Law School. “Students who are in each of our classes are so well educated and inspired by Adrian that I find myself envying them and hoping for the opportunity soon to teach along with him. Would that I had experienced even one teacher as good as he when I was a law student!”

    Laura Lallos, a law student who has taken two classes with Vermeule, praised his teaching. “Professor Vermeule always strikes a nice balance. He enjoys pointing out what is ‘bogus,’ ‘neurotic’ or ‘pathological’ about received wisdom—but he makes sure we have a firm grounding in traditional approaches to the subject. He wields the Socratic method with precision, but students are free to ask questions and offer opinions that veer in a different direction. He sets a syllabus and stays with it—showing rare respect for students’ busy schedules—and yet he always seems fresh and excited about the subject at hand. I’d never suspected administrative law could inspire such passion.”

    Most recently, Vermeule’s scholarship has focused on legal interpretation. In a book project growing out of past work, conducted partly in collaboration with Cass Sunstein, the Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor in the Law School, Vermeule suggests that abstract questions about language, democracy and constitutionalism cannot resolve disagreements about appropriate interpretive methods.

    “The central question is not ‘How, in principle, should a text be interpreted?’” Vermeule said. “The question instead should be, ‘How should certain institutions, with their distinctive abilities and limitations, interpret certain texts?’ My conclusions are that judges acting under uncertainty should strive, above all, to minimize the costs of mistaken decisions and the costs of decision making, and to maximize the predictability of their decisions.”

    Vermeule, who is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, has been on the Chicago faculty since 1998. He currently teaches courses on legislation, administrative law and Constitutional law.

    Professor Eric Posner said of his Law School colleague, “Adrian brings to the law an attitude of terrific rigor and seriousness. The students are grateful not only for his fine teaching, but also for the way he bathes them in the glow of his intellectual passion. And so are his colleagues.”

    Before coming to the Law School, Vermeule had served as a clerk to Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia and Judge David Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

    “Professor Vermeule is perhaps one of the most conscientious and considerate teaching professors I have encountered at the Law School,” said Sarah Horvitz, one of his students. “This says so much, as I feel most of our professors are primarily teachers, not simply academics. His classroom style is engaging and very often humorous. More importantly, he is an invaluable and consistently available resource and support outside the classroom, whether related to our courses or not.”