We greatly enjoyed our recent visit to the University of Chicago Law School. The U. Chicago students were very welcoming and made us feel right at home, even inviting us to their law school musical — which, by the way, was delightful.
(We added many of them as friends on Facebook before we were mysteriously banned from the site, without notice or explanation. So if you no longer see us on FB, it’s not because we “de-friended” you, but because our account was disabled.)
A few Chicago students, however, had a bone to pick with us. They objected to this ATL post, which cast the recently announced departure of Professor Cass Sunstein — prominent scholar, beloved teacher, and possible Supreme Court nominee under President Obama — as a hiring coup by Harvard Law School, a triumph by HLS over Chicago. They emphasized that Professor Sunstein’s leaving the Windy City for Cambridge was prompted by personal rather than professional reasons.
Professor Sunstein said as much his farewell email (emphasis added; in fact, all emphases added throughout this post, unless otherwise indicated):
I’m writing to say that I’ve just accepted an appointment at Harvard Law School. It is an understatement to say that I don’t take this step easily or lightly. As most of you know, I’ve been reflecting on this question for several years. I finally decided, for personal reasons, that I need a change.
Since he’s a prominent Obama supporter — as well an adviser to the campaign, but more on that later, since it ties into our tale — it’s not surprising that Professor Sunstein is All About Change.
The law school’s popular leader, Dean Saul Levmore, also stressed the personal component to Professor Sunstein’s move. As he told the University of Chicago’s student newspaper, the Maroon:
“I’m sort of embarrassed that [the story] said that the University of Chicago couldn’t be reached for comment,” Levmore said. “It looks like we didn’t want to talk, but the truth is that this decision [to leave Chicago for Harvard] was based on personal reasons and I respect that privacy. The media will find out about them soon enough.“
With a comment like this, Dean Levmore was basically begging us to go digging. So dig we did.
Let’s see, Cass Sunstein’s “personal reasons” for leaving U. Chicago… hold on a sec. Isn’t Professor Sunstein part of legal academia’s most fabulous power couple, together with that renowned philosopher queen, Professor Martha Nussbaum? And didn’t Professor Nussbaum just turn down a Harvard offer?
That was then; this is now. What we learned in our investigation is consistent with this ATL comment, as well as this (subsequently removed) Wikipedia edit.
It appears that Professor Sunstein may be part of a new “power couple” — in the most literal sense. Rumor has it that he’s romantically involved with Professor Samantha Power — a beautiful, brainy professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, who is roughly 15 years his junior. She is a Pulitzer Prize winner who has also been profiled in Men’s Vogue (see glamorous photo, at the top of this post). What’s not to like?
Update: More about Samantha Power here (from a college classmate who tried to hit on her, without success, and just ended arguing politics with her).
Now, please don’t give us full credit (or blame) for bringing to light the Sunstein-Power relationship. When we attended the Chicago Law School musical last weekend, Samantha Power got a shout-out near the end of the show, when the Cass Sunstein character announced his departure for Harvard. So the rumor of her romance with Professor Sunstein is already widely known throughout the U. Chicago community (and beyond); it’s no state secret. It is already known to hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
We reached out to all three members of this Mensalicious love triangle, which seems to come straight out of a Saul Bellow novel. Find out what we learned — two of them had no comment, but one of them did — after the jump.
Our Chicago sources informed us of the following, widespread gossip: (1) Professor Sunstein and Professor Power are dating / seeing each other / romantically involved; (2) they met through the Obama campaign, which they are both advising (he on domestic policy, she on foreign policy; see here); and (3) he took the HLS job so that he could spend more time with her in Cambridge, where she teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
(A dissenting rumor: Professors Sunstein and Power were an item, but are no longer. This was the minority view, and less well-sourced than the majority view. So we’re sticking with the majority view. But if that’s an error on our part, please let us know.)
Update: One source shoots down the “dissenting” rumor: “They’re definitely an item. He was at her book party on Friday night and said as much during a speech he gave on her behalf.”
We call this romance “rumored” because we haven’t officially confirmed it with the principals. Neither Professor Sunstein nor Professor Power responded directly to our requests for comment. But here’s a bit of circumstantial evidence — from, of all sources, the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star:
For about 100 supporters gathered yesterday at the University of Mary Washington’s Combs Hall, the only apparent flaw in Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign might be its GPS navigating ability.
A noontime speech by two of Obama’s policy advisers, University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein and Harvard University government professor Samantha Power, was delayed an hour as the two explored Virginia’s rural back roads.
Exploring rural back roads? Ah, so that’s what they call it these days.
Okay, so here’s what you’re all wondering: When exactly did the Sunstein-Power romance commence? Was there any overlap between the Sunstein-Nussbaum romance?
As noted, neither Professor Sunstein nor Professor Power responded to our queries. But Professor Nussbaum kindly did — and denied any overlap. Here’s what she wrote (cc’ing Cass Sunstein on her email — he wasn’t on our original message to her, since we had contacted him separately, but she added him):
I think you should ask Professor Sunstein for comments on anything that has to do with his personal life. We have been separated for some time, and thus I am not in a position to comment on rumors about his personal life, but I would expect that his reasons for moving to Harvard are substantive and professional, as are mine for remaining in Chicago.
She then passed along the explanation of her decision to remain at Chicago, which previously appeared on Brian Leiter’s blog, and which she described “as the real *news* in the matter.” She noted that Professor Leiter shortened her statement by omitting the last two paragraphs. We reprint Professor Nussbaum’s statement, in its entirety, at the very end of this post (below the collected links).
In a follow-up message, Professor Nussbaum wrote:
Cass Sunstein and I want to inform you that, although, as I said, we separated some time ago, no third parties were involved in the separation on either side — although of course we are dating other people now. It was a completely different issue, which we have not been reluctant to discuss with our friends and colleagues, but which really doesn’t belong on your blog. Yours sincerely, Martha Nussbaum
Update: We wonder about the identity of Professor Nussbaum’s new beau. She seems to like ‘em brilliant. A tipster tells us that many years ago, before she was with Professor Sunstein, she dated Amartya Sen — the Nobel Prize-winning economist and Harvard professor.
If one of the parties were to speak about the break-up, we’d guess it would be Professor Nussbaum. She seems quite comfortable with sharing details of her private life. See, e.g., this “power couple” profile, in 02138 magazine:
Nussbaum says about Sunstein, “I guess what’s so surprising and so great is that he combines qualities: He’s brilliant, he’s dazzling, he’s aggressively masculine and has a tremendous level of emotional articulateness.”
See also this interview with The Guardian:
What was the best kiss of your life?
Last night, as we celebrated Cass’s birthday.
That interview, by the way, appeared on October 27, 2007. So if Professors Nussbaum and Sunstein separated “some time ago,” they may have parted ways not too long after the memorable smooch.
Update: It’s not clear when Professor Nussbaum filled out the Guardian questionnaire. But a source tells us that Professor Sunstein’s birthday falls in late September. So it’s quite possible that Professor Nussbaum responded to the Q-and-A well before it was published (pushing back the date of The Kiss even further).
So there you have it: the true (we think) story of Professor Cass Sunstein’s defection to Harvard Law School, based on what we’ve been able to unearth thus far. Of course, much of this information is secondhand, the error rate for romantic gossip tends towards the high side, and situations like these can change rapidly. So if we’ve gotten anything wrong or left out anything important, please let us know, preferably by email (or you can also leave a comment). Thanks.
Harvard Lures Sunstein from Law School [Chicago Maroon]
Power Couple: Martha Nussbaum & Cass Sunstein 
Samantha Power: Wikipedia Edit [Wikipedia]
A League of Her Own: Samantha Power [Men’s Vogue]
International Power [Manhattan Transfer]
Nussbaum on Her Decision to Stay at Chicago and Turn Down Harvard [Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports]
Advisers Speak at UMW [Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star]
Q&A: Martha Nussbaum [The Guardian]
Earlier: Musical Chairs: Harvard Snags Sunstein from Chicago!
STATEMENT BY PROFESSOR MARTHA NUSSBAUM ON HER DECISION TO TURN DOWN HARVARD AND BROWN AND REMAIN AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
>I was enormously impressed by the offers made me by both Harvard and
>Brown, and I can’t but be grateful to them both for all they did to
>make those offers appealing; but the terms of those offers were met
>and even exceeded by Chicago, and, in the end, it became very clear
>to me that Chicago is the place for me. I am a very
>interdisciplinary person. Here at Chicago I belong to Law,
>Philosophy, and Divinity, and other units in varying lesser degrees.
>When I teach, I don’t like to offer this course for this unit and
>that course for that unit, I really like to have students from
>different units in the same classroom. Chicago is virtually unique
>in the ease with which one can do this, since all units are on the
>same calendar and the same campus. I just announce a course title
>and a prerequisite, and things take care of themselves, the course
>gets five or more different course numbers without any bureaucracy,
>etc. Harvard is much larger, more bureaucratic, and more impersonal,
>and it is difficult to link law to philosophy and other humanities
>subjects, because the law school has a different calendar.
>But equally important for me is the culture of the University of
>Chicago Law School, which has an intellectual intensity and fertility
>that is unique. People talk voraciously across lines of
>specialization, with a sense of everyone’s equality. There are no
>stars; the entry-level assistant professor is treated with the same
>respect as the tenured professor. The ideas are what matter, not
>fame or glamor. This has been so for a long time, but I give
>particular credit to Saul Levmore, the current Dean, for his
>extremely fine leadership, both intellectually and in building a
>community in which this type of equal respect flourishes. I am sure
>that his very generous concern for each faculty member, from the
>youngest to the most senior, is a large part of what led me to stay.
>Levmore has been doing a lot lately to build the law-philosophy side
>of our law school, with the appointment of Brian Leiter and the
>creation of the law-philosophy postdoctoral fellowship program. So
>that only increases my regard for the law school.
>I would also want to mention the strength of our philosophy
>department, which is currently growing, with the growth of the
>humanities across the university. I love my graduate students, and I
>know that they are among the most unusual and interesting in the
>country. (Indeed, I’ve just signed a contract to co-author a book on
>patriotism with one of them, and I’ve never co-authored a book before
>in my life.)
>Finally, the new University administration of Robert Zimmer
>(President) and Thomas Rosenbaum (Provost) is doing exciting things
>for the university as a whole — and, in particular, fostering
>interdisciplinary initiatives linking law to the humanities. I feel
>like a part of a team that is working together to do these things,
>and the whole university seems to me like a family, in which I can
>play a role that I would not have been able to play in a larger more