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Monday, January 31, 2005

E. A. Farnsworth

Professor Ethan Allan Farnsworth, a member of the Columbia faculty since 1954, passed away this morning. He was a wonderful professor who taught the first-year course on contracts with enthusiasm and good humor. He knew everything there was to know about the field in which he taught but never seemed to tire of answering his students most basic questions. He used the Socratic method, but he never once attempted to embarrass or humiliate a student - he certainly was no Kingsfield.

As his students, all of us knew that Professor Farnsworth had been the reporter for the Restatement (Second) of Contracts, that his treatise was the definitive source on black letter contract law, and that his casebook was being used at law schools all over the country, but Professor Farnsworth never touted his credentials. He didn't need to, of course. But more than that, I just don't think intellectual preening was his style.

Professor Farnsworth liked to take his students to lunch at the Columbia Cottage, a standard, no-frills Chinese restaurant near campus. I last spoke to him there at a lunch with several of his former students, my classmates. True to form, he took a keen interest in what each of us was doing, and he dispensed advice on law school and life that was as useful as all the contract law he had taught us the previous fall.

In short, Professor Farnsworth was a gentleman, and he was old school. He will be missed.


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