Lee Bollinger

This professor has earned a CULPA silver nugget

Jan 2020

In a sentence (I really hope others on CULPA would start summarizing like this): I loved this class, and I can't believe I am saying this but I also love prezbo as a lecturer and a professor in general. As someone who has always been passionate about laws, this was the class that made me realize Columbia is the best undergraduate institution for a pre-law student in the entire country. No other schools provide any opportunity that is even remotely close to this -- the president of the university, who also is a leading 1st amendment scholar, lecturing an exclusively undergrad class. I have realized that most ppl don't actually seem to appreciate how rare and amazing this is. I went into the class having read shitty comments concerning prezbo and with the mindset that "I am the prelaw CC polisci major kid like any other and this is obviously the unrequired required class for someone like me." This class will help you understand if law is really for you, because many many CC kids go to law school and end up in basically finance anyways. DO NOT go to law school if you don't like law per se enough, because you truly will be miserable, as literally every single law student I know has told me. Con law is a required class in the very first semester at any law school, and 1st amendment is weird but important. Many have also written about cold calls, but the truth is, statistically speaking you are unlikely to be ever called in the entire semester, and I wasn't. Cold calls are also mandatory at law school and yet much harder than prezbo does it, so I don't understand why anyone should be complaining about it, since again, if you don't like it, then maybe this class / law school is just not for you. I also disagree with some older comments that TAs are useless. I do however suggest you just google the TAs and find out who is the best fit for you. Many but not all are law students, and some are clearly too nervous to lecture. It's true I don't understand why the head TA is a communications PHD, but he is an outlier. My TA is a phd in political theory but also has a JD from Yale law, very brilliant and self-deprecatingly humorous. The other TA I went to a few times is a Fulbright scholar and does human rights law. Personally I recommend you find a TA in political theory because they just know the most shit.

Dec 2018

TLDR: Bollinger is a good professor, but only take this class if you're interested in law. Now, let me try to be clear and elaborate on Prezbo and this class. I am interested in law. My friends that took this class were mostly interested in law. We all loved it. American constitutional law is fascinating, as is First Amendment jurisprudence. That being said, the people I know who took this class just because President Bollinger is teaching it found it boring and didn't like him as a professor. He teaches as I believe any law professor would teach a class, giving you a hypothetical case at the start of each class and picking on 2 students to try and 'solve' it. I found this approach to work best for a law class, while others felt Bollinger should have been more involved. Apparently, he does hold office hours if you email him, and sticks around for a few minutes after class for questions. The entire class is invited to his house for cookies and apple cider at the end of the semester, which is fun and a good opportunity to interact with him. I enjoyed the class greatly and recommend it for anyone with an interest in law (or just the First Amendment) and found that if you go in with an open mind (i.e. you don't go in with a visceral hatred for Prezbo) then you'll enjoy it to

Dec 2017

Class was challenging but rewarding. I feel like I learned a substantial amount and can speak intelligently about free speech. The reading material was dense and long, and oftentimes it was not clear what sections of the book we needed to cover. The confusing format of the textbook made it difficult for me to tell what cases were more important than others. Classes themselves pretty consistently started with prezbo randomly selecting two students to pick on for the entire class period. Then he would present a hypothetical situation and ask the "cold-called" people to analyze the free speech issues. I guess this is a standard law school class format, but I personally wished that prezbo would have done more "teaching" himself (rather than relying on students to try to answer the questions). Since classes themselves were sometimes confusing, TA sessions were essential to actually understanding the material. I wouldn't take this class if you like to be spoon fed the stuff that is going to be on the exam. There were no assignments whatsoever to prepare us for the 2 exams, meaning that we had to make our own judgements about what would be on the exams and how to study for them. All that being said, the class was definitely thought-provoking and overall, I am glad that I took it. I don't think that the fact that Prezbo taught it made it any better or worse. I would definitely not recommend someone taking this course just because of Prezbo. Instead, I would say take it if you want to come out of a poli sci course and feel like you actually know something relevant about politics.

Nov 2013

Since CULPA has a minimum word count, I'll go into more detail: The class is a farce. PrezBo doesn't respond to unplanned questions in class, doesn't hold office hours, and doesn't stick around to take questions. It's obvious he neither prepares nor gives a shit and the class is a half-assed attempt to pretend he cares about undergraduates and wants to keep his "feet on the ground" at the university. The TAs (who are NOT law students) do not respond to emails. When they do (rarely,usually about a week later), they tell you to ask another TA, who does the same thing. The class bears almost zero resemblance to a true law class and never lays the conceptual foundations to proceed through the case law in a clear-headed fashion.

Dec 2012

lol. this class...I had a lot of feelings about this class. I absolutely don't regret taking it, but there were some terrifying moments. Terrifying moment 1) hearing prezbo call your name (without telling you in advance) and expecting you to be able to provide a thorough analysis of some serious business court cases...and cross examining you for the entirety of the class period. Terrifying moment 2) finding out the final was worth 70% of the grade. Terrifying moment 3) the day before the midterm (and final) when the TAs got in a fight (which was never resolved) about what the right answer to an essential conceptual question. The class wasn't all bad though. I really enjoyed it actually. If you think you might want to law school, a first amendment law class isn't a bad idea. This class is not about freedom of speech as a general theory--this is a law class. The readings are court case summaries. When he says you have 20 pages of reading. 20 pages in this class could take you hours, so prep for that. Prezbo is exactly what you'd expect him to be. He comes to class with a bodyguard, and he's a big of an ass, but I think he's ok with that. He is also THE expert of 1st amendment law and the president of the university, so he can pretty much do whatever he wants. All that being said, I have learned so much. This will go down as one of the best classes I've taken at Columbia.

Dec 2012

The material President Bollinger's constitutional law class is dense and challenging, yet having an esteemed figure like President Bollinger at the helm surely makes the class more enjoyable. Bollinger elucidates much of the material that is presented, which is a necessity. The style of the class—he presents a hypothetical question at the outset, then picks one or two students to try and make sense of the constitutional issues—makes every lecture nerve-racking (you don't want to get called on if you haven't done the reading), yet it is extremely helpful in critically processing the issues. As a professor, Bollinger seems to realize the awe that many students are in throughout his class, yet also enjoys parsing through the material; it is clear that he is intellectually stimulated, and enjoys those 75 minutes more than some other stretches of his day. Though some classes are lively, the classes in which it is mainly Bollinger lecturing about aspects of free speech are equally stimulating; however, be sure to sit in the front if you don't want to zone out, as much of the class does. The hypotheticals which Bollinger presents are usually gems, and force him to say things that, when taken out-of-context, are wonderful. His ability to take on the character of a domestic terrorist, libeled drug addict, and despotic university president humanize the most powerful man on campus, and provide for an afternoon of laughter and intrigue. There are two main problems with this class. First, to call the TAs irrelevant would be a compliment, as they actually seem to have a net negative impact on the class. The class suffers from a lack of a clear syllabus: the schedule of reading is unclear, which is important, as it is worthless to show up to class without having done the reading. One would think that the graduate students would attend to such logistical issues instead of the president of the university, but this is not the case. In addition, when Bollinger skips town (to Asia? to the White House?), consider it an invitation to do something else with your afternoon. The TAs are incompetent lecturers, and, at multiple occasions, could not agree amongst themselves on the right answers to questions asked by students. This may not be their fault, as they are not law students, yet this remained a thorn in the class's side. The other problem: it was clear that Bollinger is interested in issues of a global free press, yet the course is ostensibly about American constitutional law. Where the global aspect fits in is unclear; it seems that these discussions are long digressions, somewhat unrelated to the other content, and not covered on exams. Although Bollinger these illustrates issues clearly, it is not clear where they fit in to the class.

Jan 2012

I thoroughly enjoyed PrezBo's class; he really did earn the silver nugget. I imagine the quality of this course is entirely dependent on whether or not he's in town, but this semester he taught 90% of the time and seemed consistently on the ball. Bollinger is a surprisingly good lecturer. Granted I cared about the topic beforehand, but some genuine learning took place (as opposed to the disinterested lecturing you might expect). Of course, PrezBo also commanded the total attention of the class due to his position of authority. He never expelled anyone for being late though. Hearing him introduce himself each class as a hypothetical case subject - e.g. "I think violence is the answer to political problems" - was quite satisfying. Miklos Harszati is still "co-teaching" the course. He lectured two or three times this semester and kinda sat in the back like a poor housepet. I'm sure he deserves sweet-ass rewards for being part of the Hungarian Soviet resistance, but don't come to class when he's teaching. Dude just gives a middle-school quality summary of the previous class. Dates and names related to the cases studied are not important (except if you're called on in class). Only the basic holdings of modern cases are. I do wish I knew this earlier. In fact, we spent a disproportional amount of time on cases which we weren't even supposed to use in tests, as they were deprecated. It's not a good first semester or first social science course solely because you don't want to make an ass of yourself in front of PrezBo. But once you're comfortable with the possibility of PrezBo grilling you (and you should be, he couldn't care less), then you can't go wrong taking it. Note: This used to be a 4000-level class but was changed to a 3000. Looking at earlier CULPA reviews, it appears to have been another rehash of what Bollinger has taught before.

Jan 2011

I'm pretty sure the review below this one was written by someone from Bollinger's office. He is a very image-conscious guy, so I wouldn't put it past him. I guess that's the first thing everyone needs to know about Bollinger: he is a bit of a prima donna, yet tactful at keeping his annoyance with the inferiority of the world under wraps. Though eloquent, I walked away with this distinct impression that he lacks any genuine intellectual rigor. If he does have the intellect of an average Columbia professor, then it is obviously taken up by his occupation as president. It certainly wasn't expended in writing the incredibly thin and reductive volume "Uninhibited Robust and Wide Open", a required reading for the class. Bollinger only lectured for a small portion of the class. The second half was done by this guy named Miklos Haszrati whose accent was the most atrocious thing I have encountered at Columbia. I did not understand a single thing he said. Bollinger was present for a large portion of Miklos' lectures, but had difficulty understanding his accent as well. Occasionally Bollinger became visibly frustrated and would offer aggressive questions to Miklos who often seemed lost on the most obvious points of the class he was supposed to be teaching. A look around the room during Miklos lectures revealed 40-some students who had managed to secure a study hall under the supervision of the university's president. All we had to do was listen to a soundtrack of incomprehensible mumbling. Most people played with their cellphones, did readings for other classes, checked e-mail or facebooked. Bollinger usually played with his Blackberry. It was an incredibly easy grade, but I wasted three credits of class time. Take something with a real professor. Bollinger's just here to be a figure head.

Dec 2010

If you have the opportunity to take a class with President Bollinger, take it. I was ambivalent at first because a. I knew nothing about First Amendment law and b. figured it'd be a GPA killer, but both of these concerns were largely unfounded. President Bollinger is an amazing teacher, probably one of the best that I've ever had, and even though his co-teacher (Prof. Miklos Haraszti) had difficulty with English, I'm glad I stuck through it. Prof. Bollinger's thesis about building a global free press is provocative and definitely worth knowing about, and because the class incorporates students from the law, journalism, international affairs, and undergrad schools, I spoke with really interesting people that I probably wouldn't have met if it weren't for this course. I can't speak to the grading policy very well since I don't know how other students did, but I think that, if you work really, really hard, you can get an A. Anyway, the grading is irrelevant, take this class for the experience...and to be invited to a reception at Prof. Bollinger's house afterwards!

Sep 2008

I have to disagree with the previous reviewers. I loved this class. It's refreshing to go to a class that forces you to think in a new way. The answers aren't given to you and you have to figure them out like a puzzle, piecing together the cases that you've read. Sure, it's annoying to sit through a class where someone else is called on and doesn't know what they're doing, but that's actually helping you learn and identify gaps in reasoning. Plus, if the student clearly doesn't know what they're talking about, PresBo will make them feel fairly inadequate at life, which is more than more professors have the balls to do. It's also not terribly difficult to do well in this class. I didn't take it for an easy A, but the only 2 grades are midterm and final. If you stay on top of the reading (which really isn't too much, since sometimes there are weeks without anything assigned), and go to class, you'll do well on the exams. There's no real way to study but to just keep thinking and hopefully you're doing that anyway. And if you're lucky, you'll see the infamous hair flip.

Feb 2008

Bollinger is clearly intelligent, and the material itself is very interesting. His style of teaching involves getting students to understand concepts on both sides of every issue; unfortunately one must often sit through this painful process while the students he has chosen to call on struggle to articulate their half-formed opinions. I would personally have preferred if he had spoken more from his own experience and knowledge, rather than trying to extract conclusions from sometimes slow students. Unfortunately, the grading scheme was completely nontransparent, and a majority of the class received B's or worse, though with any effort reading the text and preparing for the exams an A or A- is very achievable. The mediocre average seems to reflect the popularity of the class more than its rigor.

Jan 2008

I found the subject matter highly interesting, but I wasn't a big fan of Prez Bo's teaching style. Sure, I see the value of the Socratic method, but too often his predilection for picking on just one student per class made for boring sessions in which we all had to listen to one person falter over the answers. The man has faced the Supreme Court personally, and he's one of the foremost scholars in the field--I really wanted to hear what he had to say. Sure, the possibility of being called upon is scary, but it's easy enough to pretend to be absent that day. I just wish that it weren't a class for which you had to pretend to be absent. All the same, it's not like you're doing anyone a favor if you admit to being there and then force the entire room to listen to you not know things for the next hour and a half. I am sure that Prez Bo has a lot to say as himself, but unfortunately all of the hypotheticals entailed him role playing and teasing the argument (slowly) out of students--it was often time-consuming, ineffective, and occasionally agonizing. The few times that he simply lectured, however, were great. Overall, the class isn't the amazing opportunity that I thought it'd be, but I'm glad I took it because I walked away with significantly more knowledge than I began with.

Dec 2006

I highly recommend this class. Despite the heavy reading, the fact that if he calls on you it's the scariest thing in the world, and the annoying PrezBo sycophants, I really learned a lot about the First Amendment and Constitutional Law. I may think about law school, thanks Lee!

Jan 2006

President Bollinger uses the socratic method and runs the class like a law class. It can be difficult if it is your day to talk, and if it is not your day to talk, there are few oppertunities to ask questions or speak. He shows up late to class exactly 5 minutes and keeps class late exactly 5 minutes every week. His syllabus is very disorganized and it can be difficult to know what is the topic for the day or for the next week. He's very smart and it is a fascinating class for an aspiring law school student. Note: the TA review sessions gave a lot of good advice for the exams and what to look for.

Jan 2006

Very good class. I decided to go to law school based a lot on the class. TAs were terrrible, however. Bollinger is a pretty good teacher and often goes into side notes about the university in general. Take this class.

Mar 2005

Remember in Legally Blonde when she freaks out in her first law class because the professor randomly calls on her and expects her to have read and understood case law? Ok, that's really how law classes work. And that's not even half as intimidating as it really is. Pres. Bollinger is scary, and scarily smart, so know your stuff. It's complicated at first, but it's baptism by fire. Don't think you get off clean if you're not called on, because the midterm and final are just as demanding. Word of advice: work every case you can possibly think of into the hypothetical situations on the tests. The more comparisons or contrasts you put - the more complicated you make your reasoning - the better your grade. Ask the TAs.

Jan 2005

Okay… Let’s get the obvious out of the way. - The President of the University teaches a class and therefore is accessible to lowly peons. Of course sycophants will follow. - Yes... the syllabus looks like it was flung together 5 minutes before the first class by an assistant and the reading is perpetually behind what’s listed. A professor behind on the reading? This is bad how? It just gives you more time to catch up and participate. - And okay...the TA’s don’t really offer much advice on how to take the tests or what they’re looking for although they’re grading them. Yet they’re very informative and responsive to direct questions about particular cases, concepts, or doctrine. That aside, the class is great. Critics who sought a definitive answer on what the law is and is not, failed to grasp Bollinger’s most salient point. There is no one answer. Interpretation of the law is based on assessing variables, which is exactly what Bollinger attempts and succeeds in conveying with hypothetical situations. If you want a boring lecture about law sans its importance or possible application, this is not the class for you. If you want a class that doesn’t teach from a textbook and offers engaging debate—ignore the idiots, enjoy the additional reading time, and ask the TA’s specific questions, and you’ll love this class.

Jan 2005

Apparently everyone who commented on this class is way too intelligent for it/Bollinger/the rest of us. Well then as a layman I will admit that I did learn something in this class, a lot actually, not the least of which was how to consider and argue all sides/facts in a situation (this is not real law you say...gee isn't that what lawyers do????). Arguing that its not real law or its inadequate/early law is rediculous. It's an undergrad class for students who are NOT in law school as well as for people who do not have a whole lot of time in the semester to study an incredibly extensive topic. If you are pretentious then you could either not take this class or take it and then commnet that you are smarter than the president of columbia university. Yes, there are a lot of clowns in the class, but that phrase is not only confined to the people who think they are funny when they make stupid comments. This criticism also applies to the people who think they are soo much more intelligent than everyone else. My main criticism of Bollinger was that he did not know how to shut these idiots up. Some of the T.A.'s were pretty annoying just because they couldnt give us grading guidelines for exams which they themselves were grading. Go figure. We would get either completely conflicting ideas at review sessions or after the exam they would admit they penalized us for not doing something which they specifically told us not to do. "It turns out you actually did need to do this" they said after the exams were graded...thanks for the tip. The best part of this class is obviously the subject matter. It is incredibly interesting and Bollinger is very good at making you understand and analyze all different aspects/situations of the cases and the law. I feel smarter after taking the class and I feel like i've gotten a pretty good sense of the reasoning behind a substantial part of our legal system. I feel like I can think and argue lot better now. For those of you who are already geniuses, I would suggest you skip the class instead of annoy 130 students with how witty (cough) or intelligent (cough) you are. And for those of you who think I am disgruntled/stupid and thus annoyed by the smartasses in class, I'm not. I did pretty well in the class. I really recommend it. You are really missing out on the material /Bollinger if you don't take it.

Dec 2004

There are a few things that made this class less than enjoyable for me: 1.) The assclowns. Not just your garden-variety assclowns -- I'm talking about assclowns of epic proportion. These kids made me wish I carried around a bag of rocks and a slingshot. It's no wonder Bollinger is so aloof. I'd come in late, leave abruptly, and generally avoid any interaction with students as well if the majority of them are so desperately trying to make themselves stand out to me. He's a glutton for punishment, though, because he teaches the class in some semblance of the Socratic method. 2.) The TA's: It was hit or miss with these guys. They're like SS of all TA's because they work for Bollinger. They have no real standardized system of grading, so unfortunately A stands for arbitrary in this class. 3.) The examinations were not difficult, just entirely too long for the alloted time. 4.) I came in every day confused about what we were supposed to read because Bollinger doesn't keep to the syllabus in the slightest. 5.) The fact that he's the president of the University first and foremost instead of a genuine faculty member who interacts with students and grades things makes things kinda weird. He would take off to Germany to visit with the architect of our Manifest Destiny expansion into Manhattanville in the middle of the week and leave us with the most boring, most impersonable set of TA's I have ever had the displeasure of interacting with. 6.) You don't leave the class knowing anything really concrete about 1st Amendment law. In sum, I don't recommend this class. If you're really interested in First Amendment law, wait until you get to law school and it's in meaningful context.

Dec 2004

I really enjoyed this class- not a whole lot of work- just careful reading. In-class discussions are engaging, and Bollinger keeps the bullshitters quiet, and challenges everyone else to think harder. He takes a casual approach, which makes for a comfortable atmosphere, but if you're looking for a class where you'll find all the answers neatly spelled out on the blackboard, this class isn't it. The work is all about analyzing cases and making every possible argument. So it's not a real "law" class, but who cares? It still teaches you how to think critically about legal issues.

Dec 2004

If one more person refers to how amazing it is to see Bollinger's mind at work I'm going to throw up. This class has been built up (wrongly) as one of the best classes you can take at Columbia. Bollinger is simply not a good teacher. He seems far more interested in himself in this class than in the students. Everyone seems to have bought into this idea that because Bollinger is the University President, this class must just be amazing. The problem I have with this class is not the higher than average number of ass clowns, but rather with what you learn. Bollinger is so interested in acting coy and intellectual and playing devil's advocate that he never actually tells you what the Black's law answer is. The class is a good overview of EARLY first amendment law, but if anyone in the class were asked to argue a case, they wouldn't have the first clue as to what the law is today. Is the class woth taking? Yes. Is it as good as people say? Certainly not.

Apr 2004

Bollinger's class was really worth taking. The course is taught Socratic method (meaning he takes the enrollment list and calls on people at random) so you must do the reading. But the reading is very manageable and he normally falls behind so you won't have to do reading for weeks at a time. Bollinger explores the constitutional intricacies of the first amendment thoroughly, so if constitutional law isn't your thing it might be boring. However, if you enjoy detail oriented constitutional theory the class is really amazing. Bollinger knows his stuff and really expands your eyes about the reaches and contradictions in constitutional law. Definitely recommend it to American Politics majors.

Jan 2003

I'm not surprised by everybody's ridiculously laudatory reviews. Bollinger's class was 3 hours a week of butt-kissing I could have done without. I guess this was to be expected, to some extent, but before this semester I never fully appreciated the depths to which some students will sink to get in with the President (ask someone in the class about the impromptu awarding of a "Man of the Year" certification to Bollinger by one of his fans). That out of the way, the class was mostly a waste of time. The material is fascinating, the midterm and final were great, but the instruction was mediocre at best. Bollinger was incredibly disorganized, never knew where we were in the syllabus, never planned the class sessions so that we could stay on a reasonable pace. The socratic technique of law school does NOT work when most of the students in the class have never looked at a court decision.... Bollinger could have lectured and the class would have been a little more interesting, but then I never would have broken 30,000 points in Tetris. For those of you keeping score: Course Content: A- Bollinger's Instruction: C Classmates: F

Jan 2003

Plain and simple, if you can get into this class, take it. It's been a long, long, long time since I've had a professor open my eyes to a field in the way Bollinger did for constitutional law. You learn just by listening to him speak and tell stories.

Dec 2002

The best class I've taken at Columbia. Taught like you're in law school, the reading is case studies and he uses the socratic method (calling on you and random and asking tough questions). subject is fascinating (a constitutional law class on free speech, not so much on press), and bollinger is a really interesting lecturer. he's tough but fair, and actually facilitates discussion well in a huge class, making you want to speak out. also has a sense of humor, particularly about himself. is willing to take questions on anything-his role as defendent in supreme court cases, legal theory, etc.

Dec 2002

I'm not thoroughly convinced that Bollinger's final exam was incontrovertably well-crafted. The midterm: yes. The final was far too long and a little absurd. That aside, I completely enjoyed this class and the opportunity to witness one of the greatest minds and speakers of our time at work. Yes indeed, the Socratic method is employed... with a vengence. So do your reading or don't come to class (unless you're one of those people who can swallow your pride and not answer when he calls your name, feigning that you're absent). If you fear public speaking, this one's probably a pass for you. The material is incredibly interesting. At times (read: most always) Bollinger's arrogant mannerisms annoy those of standing by while he intellectually spanks an unprepared pupil. Nonetheless, this is a totally worthwhile experience. Take it if you can. PS: Bollinger might tell you at the 1st class that those seeking to go to law school shouldn't take this class--forget that. 90% of the class wants to go to law school.

Dec 2002

The opportunity to take a class with the President of the University is simply too much for some people to pass up. It's definitely worth taking. Bollinger handles the classroom as if it were a law school class, calling on random students, and using the Socratic method. If you do not know your stuff, he will make you look foolish with his hard-hitting questions. If you do know the material, he will keep questioning you anyway until you cannot come up with a good answer. When it comes to the Law, Bollinger is first-class. Occassionally he will lecture about his opinions, and if you're lucky he might talk about his Affirmative Action case that is going before the Supreme Court, but for the most part it is Bollinger interrogating students. At times though, that can get annoying if a student has not done the reading, or is not particularly smart, and at times the class almost serves as a sad display on the intelligence of some Columbians. Do not take this class if you are intimidated by thought of being forced to speak up in a 100-person class. But do take this class if you want to be enriched by one of the most important legal scholars of our time. You will learn a lot from him.