Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel, is a kind of cultural villain, a personification of unchecked prosecutorial zeal, even among people who have never fallen prey to the charms of Bill Clinton. But his students don’t see him that way. At the tail end of Mr. Starr’s eighth semester of teaching “Current Constitutional Issues” at New York University’s School of Law, they’re giving him a glowing report card.
“He was perhaps one of the best professors I had at N.Y.U., which really says a lot,” said third-year law student Coby Cohen, 25, of his experience with Mr. Starr’s one-credit seminar course. “There are a number of fantastic professors here, and if you ignore the political biases that many of us have against Ken Starr, and look at it as another class from another smart, brilliant professor even, it truly lives up to your expectations.”
Conversations with six of the independent counsel’s current and former students–all of whom said they were Democrats–portray Mr. Starr as one of the most beloved educators at N.Y.U.’s Vanderbilt Hall.
“He’s obviously conservative, but he’s extremely intelligent and, like, a really good professor,” said one third-year student who–because of warnings from Dean John Sexton about discussing Mr. Starr with the press–requested anonymity. “I’m a liberal Democrat and I went to Wellesley,” added the student, “so I kind of went into the class thinking that I was not gonna like the man so much. [But] I found him really impressive, and also, in all honesty, more courteous than a lot of other professors–which is odd, because when you read the Starr report and read about his investigations, you don’t think of him as a courteous person.”
Class discussions, which often involved students role-playing as lawyers or politicians with differing legal perspectives, went over such topics as anti-gang law, Miranda rights and telecommunications law. Students said Mr. Starr threw out dates and details of sometimes archaic Supreme Court decisions with ease. “The way he could use analogies or quote justices from way back when was incredible,” said Jennifer Moore, 24, a third-year student.
One complaint: too much reading. “He’d hand out a new photocopy packet each week,” said Michael Shumway, a 25-year-old second-year student. “And I laid them all together, and now I’m comparing them in thickness, and they are thicker than any book I have.”
Except when his duties as independent counsel kept him in Washington, Mr. Starr held the course on alternating Fridays from 10 A.M. to noon at 202 Vanderbilt Hall. His custom was to arrive in the company of two U.S. marshals. He did not hold office hours, but was available to meet with students after class. He also took questions via e-mail. The class had no teaching assistant, and students anticipate that their 10-page final paper, due May 12, will be graded by the professor himself.
During a much anticipated final class session on April 23, Mr. Starr invited questions on his four-year, $40 million investigation of President Clinton.
According to Ms. Moore, Mr. Starr changed his tone significantly during the question-and-answer session. “That was the only time that he was fairly opinionated, or, at least, justified his decisions,” she recalled. “People asked, ‘Why did you pursue the course of action that you pursued? What caused you to broaden the investigation?’ People asked what kind of impact it had on him personally.”
“He talked a lot about the recent court decision in Arkansas,” said Mr. Shumway, referring to Judge Susan Webber Wright’s April 12 announcement that for perjuring himself during the Paula Jones case, Mr. Clinton would be held in contempt of court. “I think it culminated this emotion that he needs vindication; he wants vindication.”
One female student asked about the rough treatment Monica Lewinsky claimed to have endured at the hands of Mr. Starr’s deputies, as documented in her book, Monica’s Story . “He pointed out that if you read the book, she says that she knew she was free to go at any time,” said Mr. Shumway.
A spokesman for N.Y.U. had no comment on Mr. Starr’s class, but said that the School of Law was expecting his return next spring. Mr. Starr did not return calls for comment on his N.Y.U. class.
In the end, his students may become his biggest advocates. Max Karpel, a third-year student at the law school who took the former independent counsel’s class in 1998, has high hopes for Mr. Starr’s future in academe. “He’s obviously a better teacher than he is a special prosecutor,” he said.
The Angry Americans
Here are some recent dispatches from Complainline.com, a Web site that encourages the futile rant.
“Compaq sucks,” wrote someone who posted under the name Jill. “Their customer service sucks. The company does not stand behind their merchandise and I have a $2000.00 piece of crap on my desk.”
What Web forum would be complete without a few swipes at the President? “Who are the assholes that think Clinton should stay in office???” wrote S.F., from Plainview, N.Y. “Your as stupid and corupt as he is!”
Morgan from Fowlerville wrote about the little kid she baby-sits: “I do babysitting as well as being a stay-at-home mother of two boys ages 4 and 9 months. I was babysitting a 5 year old girl, we’ll just call her Jezabelle, or I like to refer to her as THE HOOCH! This kid was a total brat who was irritating as hell. I took her shopping with my kids one day and her mother was torqued out of shape because I didn’t buy her kid something while I was at the store. Like I have to buy her brat something every time I’m at the store! Besides, I did buy her McDonalds for lunch and the last time we went shopping I bought her a sweater which I never saw on her, not once! All this kid did was bitch all day long about being bored and you could have a zoo and the Demon Drop in your backyard and she still wouldn’t be satisfied. Finally, her mother took the brat out of here because she thought I was mean because I didn’t buy the little princess something while she was at the store. I told her mom that it was a lesson for her so that she didn’t expect something every time she was in a store. Personally, I couldn’t be more ecstatic to have the little cretin out of my house! I love my own boys and the other kids that I watch (which are also boys) are great! Must be a girl thing. She also grabbed my son’s crotch while she was here so I’m sure she’ll be a real gem in her teenage years. Her parents are also the type to blame everyone else for her irritating behavior. Also very annoying. The kid expects you to jump through hoops just to keep her enter-tained because she can’t occupy herself! GOOD RIDDANCE!!!!!!!!”
Cheryl from West Lafayette wrote: “My mother, Ruth, is ruining my life. While she says that she would like only for me to be happy, she only wants me to be happy with the decisions that she makes for me.” And Eppyj from Staten Island wrote: “Damn mother-in-law treated me like crap and turned my wife against me never sticking up for me now we are almost divorced they should learn to stay out of the personal affairs between two people.”
Things have not been going well for EEK. “Today was probably the worst day of my life,” wrote EEK. “One of my good guys friends is a dumb liar and has been lying to me for a while now. This morning I found out my grandmother is dying very soon, like later today probably. I am falling so far behind in all of my classes. And to top it all off when I came home today the light inside my refrigerator went out.”
Jane had some things to tell Evan: “It really hurts that you don’t care about my friendship. If you did, you would have written back. So you’re like a little child and you refuse to deal with real feelings or even worse, you don’t care. I admit that it hurt me a lot that you wouldn’t talk to me about it. So I’m going to forget about you. Therefore, from this moment on, you cease to exist. You are nothing … You have emotional problems and if you want an ugly little bitch like Emma, then that just shows what a retard you are.”
Mig from Santa Cruz wrote to his Dad: “Please stop yelling at me.” A few days later he complained to no one in particular: “I do not want to go school today.”