Heretic in the Temple

J. I. Merritt, Princeton Alumni Weekly, October 8, 2003.


The lecturer in Politics 315 – Constitutional Interpretation, or “Coninterp,” as generations of students have called it – came to class, as usual, wearing a dark three-piece suit, a white shirt, and a tie, and he carried his papers in a black attaché case. Professor Robert P. George invariably dresses as though arguing a case before the U.S. Supreme Court – out of respect for the subject matter, the students, and the scholars who preceded him, he says. But his self-imposed dress code has another purpose, as well: to encourage civility. In a course that requires students to think through their approach to controversial topics like abortion and affirmative action – for starters – George says he wants “to set an elevated tone, because we are discussing divisive and emotionally engaging issues.”

Coninterp is one of Princeton’s most venerable courses – it’s been taught since the 1890s by a long line of distinguished constitutional scholars, starting with Woodrow Wilson 1879 and followed by W. F. Willoughby, Edward S. Corwin, Alpheus T. Mason, and George’s mentor and immediate predecessor, Walter F. Murphy, all holders of the McCormick Professorship of Jurisprudence.