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FACULTY SERIES: Political science professor shares seasoned legal career with students

At first you would think he’s just a funny guy. But then you start to hear little bits and pieces of his past and he starts to drop obscure trivia mid-sentence, and you begin to wonder about the breadth of his experience and the depth of his knowledge.

As it turns out, what you might have guessed is not too far from the truth.

There is a lot more to Mr. Benton Becker, J.D., than meets the eye.

This man who sits in his office in the quiescent corner of the Jenkins Building teaches about the Constitution, having had firsthand experience as an advisor to Congress in judicial affairs.

He teaches the science of politics, having knowledge that comes from his positions close to some of the biggest political names in American history. He teaches about the law, having owned and operated large, successful firms in both Miami and the nation’s capital.

Becker is a professor at UM in the Department of Political Science in the School of Business, teaching two sections of Political Science 211 and Constitutional Law I – IV.

Without fail, every section of his classes fills up within the first few days of registration, and he writes overrides on a routine basis.

“He takes a personal interest in all of his students,” said Elisah B, Lewis, Ph.D., Director of Undergraduate Career Options Counseling. “He provides a wealth of knowledge from his brilliant legal career which he shares with all of his classes.”

Part of his teaching excellence comes from his background.

After receiving his undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, Becker finished in the upper five percent of his law school class at American University and went on to work for the U.S. Department of Justice as a criminal trial lawyer.

There he made contact with Gerald Ford, at that time the minority leader in the House, through a criminal trial involving a committee of which Ford was a member.

When Becker stopped working for the government and opened his own law office in Washington, D.C., Ford was one of the first clients to contact him for his legal services. During the first term of Nixon’s presidency, the two men had a professional lawyer-client relationship.

But when Nixon’s Vice President resigned, Becker began involving himself more heavily in White House affairs and took a leave of absence from his practice.

“I was very concerned with protecting the Vice President Ford so that he could remain outside the battle,” Becker said.

When Nixon resigned, he left all of the tapes and papers dealing with his investigation at the White House. The Attorney General and Becker had a heated dispute about the legality of keeping the papers or returning them to the former President.

Becker felt very strongly about making the papers public knowledge. So when Ford considered a pardon deal for Nixon, Becker asked to negotiate the release of the papers to the public along with the pardon.

“So now you can go and look up any congressional record, and you can listen to just what this man was up to,” Becker said.

It may seem debatable to some whether Becker takes more pride in making these papers available to the public or teaching students at UM.

“In terms of a lasting effort, I think that teaching does that,” he said. “I get to make you interested in what I think you should be interested in.”

Becker worked at the School of Law for three years upon leaving the White House and then spent two years as senior trial lawyer in Janet Reno’s office when she was State Attorney for Dade County in 1978. He then returned to UM to teach undergraduates.

Becker said he receives information from law school representatives that his constitutional law classes put students “light years” ahead of other pre-law students.

“He epitomizes what you want in a professor,” said Don Donelson, junior, who is currently taking Constitutional Law I. “He is immensely knowledgeble in his subjects, energetic in class and willing to go the extra mile beyond the classroom to make the University of Miami a great institution.”

Jillian Bandes can be contacted at jillianbandes@hotmail.com.

November 21, 2003

Reporters

The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami


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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.