Yesterday brought sad news of the passing of Ed Baker, the Nicholas F. Gallicchio Professor of Law and Communication at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Others have written posts paying tribute to Professor Baker’s significant contributions as a scholar (see here, here, and here.) I would like to take a moment to add some brief thoughts about Professor Baker’s brilliance as a teacher.
I was extremely lucky to have Professor Baker as my Constitutional Law Professor and can report that he was as fine a teacher as he was a scholar. In class, Professor Baker had a knack for posing whimsical hypotheticals that seemed simple at first blush but quickly revealed themselves to be impossibly, but wonderfully, difficult. I remember his hypotheticals spilling outside of the classroom and sparking, on more than one occasion, intense conversations over beers with classmates. One of us would comment about how humorous Professor Baker’s remarks had been that day. And, the next thing we knew, we’d spent an hour or more of our Friday night talking about the dormant commerce clause! This wasn’t the usual obsessive 1L banter about our classes, but full-on inebriated debates. In short, Professor Baker had the rare ability to make the material he taught so infectious that his students could not stop themselves from talking and thinking about it.
Outside of the classroom, Professor Baker was always kind and and unusually generous with his time. I’ll never forget, for example, how he became the first person to give me (very informal) advice about a career in law teaching. A friend and I were having lunch on campus one day. We had gotten to talking about how great it would be to lead the life of a law professor when Professor Baker happened to walk by. My friend, who is much bolder than I am, decided to stop him in his tracks and ask how he became a professor and if he might have any advice for law students interested in pursuing an academic career. Instead of telling us to come see him during office hours (which would have been an imminently reasonable reply to our spur of the moment inquiry), Professor Baker stood and chatted with us for 15 minutes about his career and what he would do if he was a law student who wanted to find a teaching job today.
I’m sorry to say that I did not keep in contact with Professor Baker after I graduated. But, I did run into him by the escalators at the AALS conference my first year of teaching (the 2007 New York conference.) Not surprisingly, he did not remember me very well (I was not an especially frequent classroom participant and so not the most memorable student) but he was friendly as usual and happy to hear that I’d landed a teaching position.
As a teacher, Professor Baker touched thousands of students lives. He will be sorely missed.