Faculty Discuss Their Time as Obama's Colleagues

Ivory Tower of Power
Tom Hundley
Chicago Tribune
March 22, 2009

Law professor Geoffrey Stone's best Barack Obama story has gotten better with age, acquiring an extra measure of ironic punch with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's antic tumble from power. Stone was dean of the University of Chicago Law School back in 1992 when its faculty was trying to recruit the sleek and all-around stellar Harvard Law student who had once worked as a community organizer on the city's South Side. Sniffing out Obama's plan to return to Chicago after graduation, Stone and Douglas Baird, who was chairman of the faculty appointments committee, cooked up a plan of their own: They created a faculty fellowship slot custom-tailored for Obama and then invited him to apply for it. When Obama visited the campus for his initial interview, he spent a few minutes outside Stone's office chatting with Stone's secretary, Charlotte Maffia.

"Barack was sufficiently polished and graceful and self-possessed then, at age 26, that my secretary immediately saw that this was a person who had a real political persona," Stone recalls. "It was partly a kind of magnetism, partly a kind of grace, a sense of his own presence. You couldn't mistake that you were with somebody who thought they were somebody—not in a bad way, but in a compelling way.

"And after he left, my secretary turned to me and said, 'He's going to be governor of Illinois someday.' "