Celebrities, Elena Kagan, Fabulosity, Law Professors, Law Schools, Pictures, SCOTUS, Supreme Court, Weddings

A Law School Love Story: Prominent Professor Marries Columbia 3L

Professor Philip Bobbitt

In 2008, we profiled celebrity law professor Philip Bobbitt. Professor Bobbitt has a breathtaking résumé, featuring degrees from Princeton (A.B.), Yale (J.D.), and Oxford (Ph.D.); distinguished government service, for both Democratic and Republican administrations; and numerous acclaimed books, including Constitutional Fate: Theory of the Constitution (1982), The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History (2002), and Terror and Consent: the Wars for the Twenty-first Century (2008) (affiliate links). For a very thorough enumeration of his amazing accomplishments, read his excellent Wikipedia page.

Our profile drew heavily upon a New York Observer piece that dubbed him “the James Bond of Columbia Law School.” What did Professor Bobbitt do to earn that sobriquet?

“His mannerisms just kind of ooze a James Bondian kind of quality,” says Vishal Agraharkar, a former [Legal Methods] student and a teaching assistant for this year’s class. “Someone who acts like that in class and outside class we assumed must have just an incredible personal life. James Bond has a hell of a personal life, so he must as well.”

Well, it appears that Professor Bobbitt, 63, does have one heck of a personal life. Over the past few days, we’ve received some rather interesting information about the good professor’s love life. The reports go something like this: “Professor Bobbitt married one of his students! Over the Christmas holiday! She’s a 3L at Columbia Law! And a Turkish princess! They were married at the Supreme Court! By one of the justices!”

As is generally the case with juicy gossip, most of this is true — but some of it is not. Here’s the real story, based on my interview with Professor Bobbitt himself. And wedding photos, of course….

Maya Ondalikoglu Bobbitt

I spoke with Professor Bobbitt by phone yesterday. He confirmed the key facts: he and Maya Ondalikoglu, who’s graduating from Columbia Law School later this year, were married in December at the Supreme Court of the United States. Justice Elena Kagan, an old friend of Professor Bobbitt, officiated.

Professor Bobbitt began our conversation by talking about his new bride. Maya Ondalikoglu Bobbitt, who grew up in Istanbul, speaks seven languages; was the commencement speaker the year that she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania; is a great equestrian, who show jumps for Turkey; and is a technical deep sea diver (a very dangerous, challenging form of diving). She spent much of her time during her 1L year working in Egypt for Grameen, a microfinance bank, and has deep interests in finance and the operation of the financial system. (You can read more about Maya in this Columbia Law School Magazine profile, where she discusses her work for Grameen.)

Philip and Maya Bobbitt have much in common, including their interests in law and their international orientation. But they also have some (happily complementary) differences, which Professor Bobbitt enumerated for me:

  • “She’s a very practical person, and she enjoys the practice of law. Like most law professors, I loved law school; I’d be a law student today if I could!”
  • “She’s a great athlete. I’m the guy that George Plimpton pretended to be, this feckless, clumsy guy who loves sports but is terrible at all of them. There’s no sport that I’ve not been humiliated in.”
  • “She has very natural gifts for language; she’s just great with them. Maya seems to pick up languages the way I pick up lint. For me, there’s no language that I have not butchered! I once told a French couple in Paris that I was an avocado.”

“She’s just an amazing person,” said Professor Bobbitt, in a somewhat awestruck tone. Given Maya’s wide-ranging interests and impressive achievements, it sounds like the “James Bond of Columbia Law” has met his match.

(For the record, though, Maya Ondalikoglu is not a Turkish princess, as one of our tipsters claimed. In response to this rumor, Professor Bobbitt quipped: “A charming thought — she definitely has a royal attitude toward my closets — but as far as I know, she is not a princess to any recognized authority other than her Jack Russell.”)

I asked the professor the question that inquiring minds want to know: How did their relationship unfold? Did they date while she was still a student of his?

They met last fall, in September 2011. “She was a student of mine for one week,” he said. “Then we went to a conference at the National Defense University in Washington. We drove down there together; it’s a long drive. If you want to get to know someone, imprison her in an automobile, and there’s nowhere she can go!”

That must have been quite the car ride, and quite the conference. It didn’t take long for them to realize their feelings for each other: “The next week, she withdrew from my class. It just seemed improper for her to remain in the class, given what we knew about where we were heading.”

This story might seem improbable or surprising to some — including, for the record, Professor Bobbitt and those who know him. He told me: “For an arch-procrastinator, the story [of how I fell in love] is highly implausible. A British friend of mine was hunting when he got the news of my getting married. He claims to have fallen off his horse!”

Ah yes — the marriage. I asked Professor Bobbitt when he proposed to Maya.

The answer? He didn’t.

“I’m a planner,” he explained. “I like to do things methodically. But I never proposed — we just knew, from day one of that drive. We always knew. It was just a matter of when and where.”

As for the matter of when and where, they were married on December 14, 2011, at the U.S. Supreme Court, by Justice Elena Kagan. How did that come about?

Professor Bobbitt was previously scheduled to have lunch in D.C. in December with Justice Kagan, an old friend. How that lunch turned into a wedding is an interesting tale:

Maya and I were looking into getting married in New York. We discovered that in New York state, under the New York statute, you have to have a birth certificate for each spouse. We were having trouble getting a valid birth certificate for Maya out of Turkey.

Washington has the most lax marriage regulation. In D.C., you just show up, pay your $75 or whatever it is, sign your form, and you’re ready to go.

So we thought, “Wait a minute. I have to go down to D.C. to have lunch with Elena. She’s a judge. She has authority to marry. Why don’t we just do it then?”

Justice Elena Kagan

Professor Bobbitt asked Justice Kagan if she would be willing to officiate, and she readily agreed. “She’s the most delightful person,” he said of Justice Kagan. “She said it was a terrific idea and she’d love to do it.”

The ceremony itself, held in the chambers of Justice Kagan, was very intimate, with fewer than a dozen guests. Two of Professor Bobbitt’s college classmates from Princeton — Jerome Davis, the Secretary of Columbia University, and Greg Treverton, former vice chair of the National Intelligence Council — were present. Maya was joined by some of her classmates from U. Penn.

Justice Kagan officiated. Her clerks had created a homemade “Just Married” sign for the occasion (which you can see in the photos below). Another old friend of Professor Bobbitt’s, Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar, sent down several bottles of Veuve Clicquot.

“It was lovely,” Professor Bobbitt recalled. “Unfortunately, we had to come back to New York that night because we had to fly out the next morning to Europe for our honeymoon.”

For their honeymoon, the Bobbitts spent a little over two weeks in London and the English countryside. After a trip to California — where Professor Bobbitt had a speaking engagement, and Maya got to fulfill her childhood dream of visiting the San Diego Zoo — they returned to the University of Texas in Austin, where Professor Bobbitt is a distinguished senior lecturer. (He taught at Texas for three decades before taking the Columbia appointment.)

What comes next for the happy couple? Maya, who will receive her law degree from Columbia this spring, is finishing her remaining credits at UT Law. As for her post-graduation plans, they’re hoping for a work arrangement that allows her geographical flexibility, since Professor Bobbitt has a somewhat peripatetic existence: he shuttles between three homes, typically spending the fall in New York at Columbia, part of the winter in Texas, and part of the spring and summer in London.

Professor Bobbitt has had a remarkable life thus far. From the 2008 New York Observer profile:

[Bobbitt] is an eminent scholar of the Constitution and used to teach modern history at Oxford. He’s a former member of the Carter, Bush I and Clinton administrations and an adviser to foreign heads of state.

Henry Kissinger and Tony Blair blurbed his latest book on terrorism, which both current presidential candidates have reportedly read.

He’s the nephew of Lyndon B. Johnson.

He can blow smoke rings, and sponsors a national poetry prize in honor of his late mother.

Also: He rotates seasonally among his homes, and can’t shake his habit of a nightly cigar and scotch-and-soda.

But there’s no time quite like the present for Professor Bobbitt. “These past few months have been one of the happiest times of my life,” he said. “Meeting Maya was just great — and it has been great every day since then. Perhaps this euphoria can’t last forever, but boy is it wonderful.”

Wonderful indeed. Congratulations and best wishes to Philip Chase and Maya Ondalikoglu Bobbitt.

Click through the subsequent pages for the couple’s wedding announcement and fabulous photos (sent to us by several sources). Links to additional background sources about the Bobbitts are collected on the final page. Enjoy!

(hidden for your protection)

comments sponsored by

Show all comments