Barack Obama stood out as a University of Chicago law professor in the 1990s: He didn't publish, he turned down tenure, he ran for office, and he collected a coterie of adoring liberal students at a largely conservative school. Yet he provoked them to take sides more than he revealed his own ideas. Looking back, former students see what he was doing—preparing for a career in politics, the New York Times reports.
But "he was a lot more fun to listen to back then," one student said. “When you hear him talking about issues, it’s at a level so much simpler than the one he’s capable of." In class, Obama dissected complex issues and revealed hidden consequences, rather than pushing his own beliefs. Colleagues found him just as hard to pin down. "He’s always been a thoughtful listener and questioner," one professor said, "but he’s never stepped up to the plate and taken full swings.”