Retired Montana Law Professor Denied “Emeritus” Status

The Missoulian reports that the faculty at the University of Montana School of Law has voted agaisnt granting retired Professor Rob Natelson “emeritus” status.

Natelson, who retired in May 2010 after serving 23 years as a professor in the law school to take a job as a senior fellow with the Independence Institute, was informed upon his return to Montana in June that the law school faculty had voted against granting the constitutional scholar emeritus status.

Emeritus status is granted to a retiring professor whose colleagues feel he or she is worthy of the academic recognition and prestige based on the faculty member’s research, service and instruction during his teaching tenure.

“Emeritus status for retirees is pretty routine and almost always given,” Natelson said. “I find the whole thing very peculiar. Even though there’s a history here, this thing seems so petty, so small.”

The decision is also odd given that Prof. Natelson was arguably the most prominent scholar on the Montana law faculty. According to the Missoulian:

A recent survey shows that between 2001 and 2010, the UM law faculty published 55 articles in Westlaw, a national online legal research database. Natelson said he is responsible for 20 of those.

Last year, he was highlighted in “Vision,” the university’s research publication, for his work trying to interpret the U.S. Constitution according to the Founding Fathers’ intent.

Montana Dean Irma Russell defended the decision on the grounds that emeritus status is a “privilege” and that each faculty member had to make a judgment based on his or her “conscience.” Prof. Natelson, long time readers may recall, is no stranger to conflict with his former faculty colleagues. As noted here and here, he fought with the school over his teaching assignments, and some of his colleagues were not happy with his political activities. Natelson now works with VC blogger Dave Kopel at the Independence Institute, where he continues to work on legal scholarship.

[Hat tip: Paul Caron]

UPDATE: Prof. Natelson comments here.