Ed Baker

Yesterday brought sad news of the passing of Ed Baker, the Nicholas F. Gallicchio Professor of Law and Communication at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.  Others have written posts paying tribute to Professor Baker’s significant contributions as a scholar (see here, here, and here.)  I would like to take a moment to add some brief thoughts about Professor Baker’s brilliance as a teacher.

I was extremely lucky to have Professor Baker as my Constitutional Law Professor and can report that he was as fine a teacher as he was a scholar.   In class, Professor Baker had a knack for posing whimsical hypotheticals that seemed simple at first blush but quickly revealed themselves to be impossibly, but wonderfully, difficult.  I remember his hypotheticals spilling outside of the classroom and sparking, on more than one occasion, intense conversations over beers with classmates.  One of us would comment about how humorous Professor Baker’s remarks had been that day.  And, the next thing we knew, we’d spent an hour or more of our Friday night talking about the dormant commerce clause!  This wasn’t the usual obsessive 1L banter about our classes, but full-on inebriated debates.  In short, Professor Baker had the rare ability to make the material he taught so infectious that his students could not stop themselves from talking and thinking about it.

Outside of the classroom, Professor Baker was always kind and and unusually generous with his time.  I’ll never forget, for example, how he became the first person to give me (very informal) advice about a career in law teaching.  A friend and I were having lunch on campus one day.  We had gotten to talking about how great it would be to lead the life of a law professor when Professor Baker happened to walk by.  My friend, who is much bolder than I am, decided to stop him in his tracks and ask how he became a professor and if he might have any advice for law students interested in pursuing an academic career.  Instead of telling us to come see him during office hours (which would have been an imminently reasonable reply to our spur of the moment inquiry), Professor Baker stood and chatted with us for 15 minutes about his career and what he would do if he was a law student who wanted to find a teaching job today.

I’m sorry to say that I did not keep in contact with Professor Baker after I graduated.  But, I did run into him by the escalators at the AALS conference my first year of teaching (the 2007 New York conference.)  Not surprisingly, he did not remember me very well (I was not an especially frequent classroom participant and so not the most memorable student) but he was friendly as usual and happy to hear that I’d landed a teaching position.

As a teacher, Professor Baker touched thousands of students lives.  He will be sorely missed.

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3 Responses

  1. Marc Blitz says:


    Thanks for the great tribute to a wonderful professor and scholar. I was also lucky enough to have him as a teacher — in one of the best classes I had in law school (and in fact, in all of my graduate education). It was a seminar was on First Amendment theory that he taught as a visiting professor at the University of Chicago. The discussions in that class, which often continued out in the hallways, had a powerful effect on my scholarly interests. They also led me to discover Ed Baker’s extraordinary thinking and writing on the First Amendment, which I still find myself drawing upon in virtually every article I write.

    I reestablished contact with him just as I was headed back to academia: On my way back from New York to Washington, DC, the year I was on the market, I took the only open seat I could find on an Amtrak train and was surprised to find I was sitting next to him. After reminding him of the seminar I took with him four years earlier, he immediately picked up where he left off, engaging, with the same intellectual sharpness and passion as always, in a wide-ranging discussion of First Amendment theory and political philosophy. He also generously offered mentoring and help in preparing for academia. I was fortunate enough to have other spirited discussions with him at the AALS and other conferences in the four years I’ve been a professor and will very much miss those exchanges. Again, thanks for this post. I was one of the students whose lives were touched by Ed Baker and your post gives me an opportunity to acknowledge that and to join in honoring his legacy as a teacher and scholar.

  2. Alex Kreit says:


    Thank you so much for adding these wonderful comments. My apologies for not replying sooner to them, I’ve been out of town and off of my computer this past weekend. Reading about your Amtrak experience brought a smile to my face. Ed Baker was truly a one-of-a-kind scholar and teacher.

  3. Nancy Baker says:

    Thank you for your remarks about my brother, Ed. One of the things that gave him great pleasure was to know that he had encouraged students to think about democracy and liberty. Reading these comments is a genuine comfort.

    Although the details are still being worked out, there will be a public Memorial Service for Ed on Jan. 31 in New York.

    Nancy Baker