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An insider's view of law and the courts

Jacob Konst/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Senior lecturer in political science James Todd conducts class earlier this week in the Center for English as a Second Language. Todd prefers a method of teaching that doesn't use overhead projectors.
By Andrew O' Neill
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 14, 2005
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In 1981, he experienced a mid-life crisis. After several years as a successful Washington, D.C., attorney, James Todd needed a change.

"I wasn't happy with lawyering," said Todd, a senior lecturer in political science, as well as a faculty fellow at the UA.

So he quit his job at the Interstate Commerce Commission, and embarked on a yearlong journey across the United States, both on land and in his sailboat.

"I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next," he said.

Todd said he decided to enroll in the doctoral program in government at the University of Virginia so he could become a college professor, a job he briefly attempted before practicing law.

As a young man, Todd said he taught political science and history courses at two junior colleges in Georgia, in part to avoid getting drafted to serve in the military during the Vietnam War.

"Better to take the Bill of Rights to South Georgia than an M-1 rifle to South Vietnam," he said.

Before his experiences in Georgia, Todd said, he was a political moderate - but his political beliefs quickly changed.

"The racism, bigotry and poverty in the South made me a liberal," Todd said.

Although he did not finish his dissertation until 1993, Todd said he completed his coursework at UVA in 1985 and was offered a position teaching political science at Tulane University in New Orleans.

In light of recent events in New Orleans, he said he is glad the UA made him an offer to join the political science faculty the following year.

Since then, he has taught a variety of courses, including American government, the judicial process and two courses covering constitutional law.

Todd is also the faculty fellow for the Yuma Residence Hall, where he advises students and plans different activities that encourage them to take advantage of the opportunities off campus.

"There's a lot more to life than video games, studying and sleeping," he said.

In recent years, he said some of these off-campus sojourns have included hiking, bird watching and sailing.

But teaching remains his primary passion.

"I love being in the classroom," Todd said.

He said he makes an effort to engage students in his lectures.

"I don't want students to be bored in my classes," Todd said.

He said he only lectures in his classes and refuses to use overhead projectors in an effort to combat what he called the "intellectual laziness" of students.

"I try to make them think," he said.

Many students appreciate the format.

"He doesn't have a script or set slides," said Seth Stuart, a senior majoring in journalism and political science who is taking Todd's judicial process class.

Stuart said Todd discusses a number of current events in class, particularly with regard to the current vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court.

In fact, Todd said he got to know Chief Justice William Rehnquist over the years, as the late justice was a frequent guest speaker in his classes.

Todd said he is concerned about the immediate future of the Supreme Court.

"It worries me a lot," said Todd, adding that it is possible the new court will go further than the Rehnquist court in curtailing the power of national government and allowing the intermingling of church and state.

Nevertheless, Todd said, he views this potential development on the court within a broader historical process, likening it to a pendulum that is currently swinging to the right.

The staunch liberal said the pendulum will eventually move in the other direction.

"One of the reasons I swim every day is to live long enough to see the pendulum swing back," he said.

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