Professor Cabot: A Tribute from Ethan Cantor ’16

Professor Edward “Ned” Cabot, a founding member of the Trinity College Public Policy and Law Department and long-time professor, passed away on May 15, 2018. His impact was enormous and his loss has been and will continue to be deeply felt within the Public Policy and Law Community. The Policy Voice will be posting a series of tributes and reflections from faculty and alumni/alumnae throughout the coming year, of which this from Mr. Cantor is the first. 

By Ethan Cantor ’16

Public Policy and Law Alumnus 

I’m sure if you ask any Trinity alumnus or alumna about Professor Cabot’s courses, they now may only be able to recall a handful of the cases that were covered in his class, or perhaps only a few of the wonderful anecdotes that Ned would weave into class discussions. However, one thing that I bet most of his former students can recall nearly perfectly is the atmosphere of his courses and the spirit in his classroom. I remember being crammed into a room in McCook’s second floor because Ned’s classes seemingly always exceeded their cap for the number of students allowed to enroll. Even students outside of the major were well aware of Professor Cabot’s courses and asked to enroll; Professor Cabot seemed hard-pressed to say no. They saw students huddled in Peter B’s or meeting in study rooms or empty classrooms discussing their briefs and practicing their oral arguments. They knew of all the hard work that was required to succeed in his courses, but they must have been lured by the passion and depth of interest that they witnessed. As a result, this reputation and popularity made for close quarters.

From the second Professor Cabot entered the classroom, not a phone could be seen and not a textbook was left unopened. The level of respect and alertness from his students, almost unseen in modern college courses, resembled that shown to a commanding officer. This sense of focus and order, however, was not a result of Professor Cabot being a strict instructor. It all stemmed from how much Ned’s students admired him for his wit, wisdom, charisma, and the respect he showed to his students. With all of the seriousness of his classroom discussions, I also remember the smiles and laughter that would regularly spread throughout his classroom. Ned had a fantastic sense of humor and his love of teaching and the material was contagious. We hung onto his words, every question and hypothetical. It was not just from a fear of being cold called and the command in which he implemented the Socratic method, it was because students were fascinated by what they would hear next. Millennial attention spans were stretched beyond their known limits.

Students came more prepared to his class than I had seen in any other, and I believe it was because of a sense of personal responsibility. You wanted to do your best because you knew that Ned cared deeply about his students getting the most out of their college educations, rivaling the level of personal investment felt by a parent. Ned’s charm was felt and seen in everything he did, from his extensive comments on student work, the touching emails he’d send to the whole class after particularly lively discussions, and the conversations that he would have with students before and after class. He was that mythical professor that anyone who had a positive college experience raves about, but any Trinity student would argue that he was one-of-a-kind, because he was that special professor to us.

In many ways, Ned’s courses differed from the norm, with their pre-course assignments, their formats (including famed oral arguments), and even Ned’s way of grading students by taking a comprehensive view of their performance and improvement over the course of the semester. Yet despite these abnormal characteristics, Ned set the tone for the major with his courses and fostered a sense of comradery amongst majors that is seen in few others. Ned reminded Public Policy & Law majors that the program prides itself in its rigor and level of student interest. Ned challenged students to uphold this reputation, and students kept pace in part to make Ned proud. I remember calling my parents in my freshman year during my first week in Ned’s PBPL 202 course and telling them about how much I was enjoying it. I had wanted to go to Trinity to be taught by professors like him.

A whole generation of Trinity students who were fortunate enough to have Professor Cabot were inspired to pursue careers in law, policy, and a variety of other fields not only because of what Ned taught us in his courses but also because of what he taught us about ourselves. He helped many of us find our intellectual passions and our appreciation for a strong argument, regardless of what side it is representing. It was an honor to study under Professor Cabot and to have been shaped by the program that he helped build. The outpouring of fond memories and support expressed by the alumni/ae community in the wake of Ned’s passing is just one of the many testaments to his legacy. As much as we all miss Ned’s warm presence and brilliance, we will never forget the way he made us feel and think. It is our prerogative to pass on these gifts to future generations that will not have the fortune to possess these memories.

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