May 2007 Vol. 105 No. 7 THE REVIEW

Tribute: A Teacher

H. Jefferson Powell

James Boyd White is, above all, a teacher. Of course, that is in fact an inexact statement: Jim White is many things, some of them of greater or more central human importance—husband, father, friend, person of faith. But in this essay my concern is with Jim as an academic, and in that context I believe that the title teacher captures best his goals and his achievement.

Several years ago Jim generously agreed to travel to Durham to meet with a small seminar (five students) that I was then teaching on constitutional law opinions as a genre of writing. It was an extraordinary experience for the seminar, including the official instructor. Jim engaged my students at the deepest level of his own thinking about the activity of writing law. He challenged them, and me, to reach beyond what they and I were doing together: it became imaginable, in those two hours or so, to see constitutional law not as the ideologically riven and substantively empty discourse it so often seems, but as an intellectually and morally demanding means by which this society wrestles with fundamental questions of justice and humanity. For me, and I believe for my students, the effect was somewhat similar to what I suppose a master class by a visiting and eminent teacher in one of the performing arts—dance, say, or voice—can be like for student performers. In retrospect, I have often thought how remarkable it was that Jim was willing to put the time and care he obviously did into what many other leading academic lawyers would have been too busy to undertake at all. That seminar is my only direct experience of Jim White as a classroom teacher, but I have no doubt that it exemplifies his practice over his years of teaching.

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