On a recent Tuesday morning, Philip Bobbitt was sitting in his grand but sparsely furnished Park Avenue apartment, smoking a cigar and drinking a caffeine-free Diet Coke.
“Most of my life is inside my head,” said Professor Bobbitt, who, when he is in New York, and not at one of his other homes in London or Austin, Texas, teaches Legal Methods at Columbia Law School. LM is a three-week introductory course for first-year students, and Columbia regularly pulls out its biggest guns for it—the shock-and-awe tactic law schools often employ to stun their 1Ls into thinking they’re enjoying themselves. This year you could’ve had Justice Ginsburg’s daughter, or a former president of the university! But you wouldn’t have known it from the campus chatter.
“Did you get Bobbitt?” was all you heard throughout August. “Did you get Bobbitt?”
“I wanted to yell at them and say, ‘How do you know this? You’ve been here 10 minutes,’” said Craig Greiwe, co-chair of the orientation committee and himself one of Professor Bobbitt’s most fervent student admirers. “But apparently they’ve been researching this for months on end.”
Through some combination of gossip, online stalking, hounding their teaching assistants and perusing the Facebook group “Phillip [sic] Bobbitt is Our Hero,” students piece together the following:
Professor Bobbitt, who is 60, arrived at Columbia only 18 months ago, after three decades at the University of Texas. He 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.
He claims to be oblivious to all the attention, but he says he likes teaching first-years, who are, as he told them on the final day of class in August, “embarking on an important voyage in conscience.”
“My classes are pretty authoritarian, and pretty rigorous,” he said. “But I have changed. And now when the students want to know something about my life, I’m not quite so standoffish.”