When Professor Ned Foley confesses, early in an interview, that he "loved law school," one might assume that a career in academia was planned from the beginning. Not so, he says, as he describes an early desire to practice international law.
"My freshman year in college was during the time of the Iranian hostage crisis, and it was an impressionable event for all of us. I thought international relations would be particularly important," he says. "Unfortunately, I discovered that I wasn't good at foreign languages, which is pretty important in the field of international law. In spite of that, I still went to law school thinking about working in New York with an international finance practice."
His love of law school, Prof. Foley notes, was largely due to the faculty. The law became exciting as he studied legal methods with Professor Peter Strauss, who made an impression as he showed how judges thought about cases and linked principles with the law. Another influential first-year course was Professor Gerard Lynch's '75 constitutional law class.
"That first year I began thinking this [teaching] was something I might aspire to," he says. "After that, I was fortunate enough to be Prof. Strauss's research assistant and, whether formally or informally, he was the professor responsible for helping students pursue teaching jobs. I remember conversations with him during and after law school before I began teaching."
Leaving law school with a strong interest in constitutional law, Prof. Foley served as a clerk in the U.S. Court of Appeals and in the U.S. Supreme Court for Justice Harry Blackmun, with a final stop in private practice before heading to Ohio State University. He has been a professor there since 1991, and his articles frequently address campaign finance, school finance, Establishment Clause jurisprudence, and principles of constitutional interpretation.
Recently, he returned from a two-year leave of absence serving as the state solicitor of Ohio. This experience, he says, illustrates the beauty of a professorial life - the dovetailing of students eager to explore the law of ideas with the practical opportunities to engage in public service in the broader profession. "There's no need to be tempted into another field permanently when I can do these things along with teaching," he says.
"There's an incredible kick when you connect with students," he says. "Each year is a new class so we can explore the same themes in new ways. The process has a very rejuvenating effect."
His enthusiasm - for his profession, subject matter, and students - is illustrated by an encounter he had one Friday afternoon over a winter break. The building deserted, Prof. Foley was wishing he were home with his family when a former student, now living in North Carolina, dropped by to visit. Serving as a prosecutor, she is the staff member most called upon to interpret more complex questions of constitutional law because of the depth of her insight and precision.
"It reminded me of the bigger picture," Prof. Foley says. "There is nothing more gratifying than someone who is on the front lines saying that what she learned in law school was important. To inspire a student in the way I was inspired; to be a part of that tradition and give back what was given to me - there's nothing better than that."