MISSOULIAN — University of Montana law professor Rob Natelson, who taught constitutional law last spring after winning a grievance, has prevailed in his quest to teach the course on a long-term basis.
Natelson, a conservative activist who has run for governor, is fully qualified for the constitutional law position, said two members of a three-person committee charged with assessing Nelson's suitability to teach the course.
Law School Dean Ed Eck and UM President George Dennison agreed with the recommendations of James Weinstein of Arizona State University and Robert F. Nagel of the University of Colorado, each of whom holds an endowed chair in constitutional law at their respective universities.
In their conclusion, Weinstein and Nagel wrote: "After due consideration of all the material presented to us, and with particular regard to Professor Natelson's performance in teaching Constitutional Law this semester, we conclude that Professor Natelson is both competent and fully qualified to continue to teach Constitutional Law. In light of this finding, we recommend that he be assigned the Constitutional Law course."
The third member of the panel, Bozeman attorney James H. Goetz, argued the Law School should conduct a national search for a constitutional law professor and invite Natelson to apply.
The opinions were crafted after the committee reviewed Natelson's teaching abilities during spring semester 2005, interviewed students and considered their evaluations of Natelson's teaching abilities along with his community service record and his published work.
In their report, Weinstein and Nagel wrote: "We are able to make this judgment with confidence. It is based on an evaluation that in its scope and thoroughness might well be unprecedented for any decision about a teaching assignment in the history of the American legal academy."
Natelson was granted the opportunity to teach the course last spring after he won a grievance hearing. Natelson had been denied the teaching assignment four different times and claimed he was the victim of political discrimination and unfair hiring practices.
After a two-day hearing, the grievance officer didn't address the political discrimination complaint, but did determine Natelson was treated unfairly. Dennison subsequently agreed to let Natelson teach the course, providing an independent evaluation committee would review his teaching performance and decide if he was fit to teach the course on a more permanent basis.
Natelson said he is relieved and grateful the issue has been resolved.
"I will do everything I can to be worthy of the committee's high opinion of me by giving students the very best education in constitutional law that I can," Natelson said. "I am thankful at the outcome of this and I think it creates a healthy precedent — that people within the university system with dissenting views will be and have to be treated fairly."
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