Professor chairs Constitutional Law program at school

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Kevin Saunders, a professor at Michigan State University College of Law and The Charles Clarke chair in Constitutional Law, served as a law clerk for the Hon. Kenneth Starr - of Clinton Administration fame - in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

"It was a great experience," Saunders says of working for Starr, currently the president of Baylor University. "He and I disagree on many issues, but he was always easy to get along with, and I have a great deal of respect for him."

Saunders, who has served as MSU senior associate dean for Academic Affairs, and as acting dean, enjoys being a member of the Spartan faculty, where he teaches a variety of courses and seminars on topics in Constitutional Law.

"I've been very happy teaching at MSU College of Law. In fact, the situation here, especially with regard to the quality of the student body, has been improving every year. My wife is from the area, so I knew East Lansing, before coming here, and that made the decision to move a lot easier.

"The students bring a variety of backgrounds and views with them, and that makes for more lively discussions of the issues."

He spent a term as a visiting scholar at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies and Wolfson College in Oxford, England.

"I enjoyed the time there, during my most recent sabbatical. My daughter Molly also was working on her M.Phil. in economics at the time."

He has also taught overseas, teaching comparative free expression to students in Lithuania, Poland, and Turkey.

"It's interesting to learn the perspectives of students from other cultures and legal systems," he says.

The author of three books: ''Degradation: What the History of Obscenity Tells Us about Hate Speech," "Violence as Obscenity: Limiting the Media's First Amendment Protection," and "Saving Our Children from the First Amendment," Saunders also has authored dozens of book chapters, law review articles, and commentaries in legal and popular periodicals, and has shared his expertise in TV and radio interviews.

Saunders began his college studies as a pre-med student, before switching to math, earning a bachelor's degree from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

"I believed there was more to education than memorization," he says "I'd taken a number of math courses and saw the field as one that teaches a person to think. I began teaching math as a way to make a living. I just kept getting offered better jobs, until I finally decided to leave math teaching."

Saunders, after earning a master's degree in math, switched to philosophy and received master and doctoral degrees from the University of Miami.

"I was taking my M.S. in math during the Vietnam War. The times raised philosophical questions that came to interest me," he says. While working toward his Ph.D., he taught math in Coral Gables, Fla., and later wrote math texts while in St. Louis. After completing his degree, he was Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Mathematics at Northern Michigan University.

He earned his law degree, with high honors, from the University of Michigan, where he was a member of the Order of the Coif, and was articles editor of The Michigan Law Review.

"I'd been using cases to teach a philosophy course that touched on the intersection of ethics and law. I became more and more interested in law to the point that I left my university teaching position to go to law school," he says. "I found my years in law school to be the most intellectually stimulating period of my education."

Saunders held assistant professorships at the University of Arkansas then at the University of Oklahoma, where during his 16-year tenure, he rose through the ranks to become a full professor and to serve on the faculties of the graduate school, the College of Liberal Studies, and Film and Video Studies. He was the recipient of four awards at the University of Oklahoma, including the 2001 Regents' Award for Superior Accomplishment in Research and Creative Activity.

He also served as Visiting James Madison Chair and Interim Director of the Constitutional Law Center at Drake University in Des Moines, Ia.

"Constitutional law addresses the fundamental issues in the relationship between the individual and the state. I suppose the interests are similar to those that led me to philosophy," he says.

The Rhode Island native and his wife, Dr. Mary E. Scott, enjoy travel in their leisure time.

"When I was younger, I did a lot of sailboat racing, from dinghies through ocean going yachts," he says. "I then became interested in travel, doing three bicycle tours in Europe. I've kept up the travel, though not by bicycle, and have been to nearly 70 countries on all the inhabited continents."

Published: Thu, Dec 15, 2011

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