Elections
President Barack Obama acknowledges the applause before delivering the commence address at Barnard College, Monday, May 14, 2012, in New York. Standing with Obama are Debora L. Spar, right, President, Barnard College, and Jolyne Caruso-FitzGerald, left, Chair of the board trustees of Barnard College. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) President Barack Obama acknowledges the applause before delivering the commence address at Barnard College, Monday, May 14, 2012, in New York. Standing with Obama are Debora L. Spar, right, President, Barnard College, and Jolyne Caruso-FitzGerald, left, Chair of the board trustees of Barnard College. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)  

Wealthy Columbia Univ. donor: School told me Obama had 2.6 GPA

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

But some conservatives say the search for grades is a distraction.

It would be better to find and highlight the topics that Obama chose to study, and to identify the teachers he choose to learn from, said one conservative researcher-author who has spent time pursuing information about the president’s academic history. Grades are a poor guide to character or ideology, he said, partly because they were so routinely inflated in the early 1980s.

Federal law bars universities from releasing former students’ college records without their permission, so Obama’s will likely remain secret until he approves their release.

Obama has faced little pressure from the established media to release his records, however, even though he has repeatedly pressed Gov. Mitt Romney to release 20 years of his tax records.

Some liberals have also argued that voters have a right to know about Obama’s college years.

Presidents should release “any information that a segment of voters would feel would be helpful to them about coming to a conclusion on who to vote for,” said Brian Levin, director for the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino.

“For anyone going for a job or position, generally transcripts are required,” he said. “College transcripts show [politicians'] knowledge base — and tells students ‘Your performance will matter down the line,’” he said.

Clashing evidence

There’s some conflicting circumstantial evidence about Obama’s grades during his two-year stint at Columbia.

In his 1995 autobiography, “Dreams from My Father,” Obama described his Occidental College academic record as “indifferent.”

But that poor record didn’t prohibit him from transferring to Columbia in 1981, during a time when acceptance standards were being relaxed.

A May 2012 article at Breitbart.com cited statements from Robert Boatti, who was Columbia’s assistant dean of admissions in 1981.

The students transferring into Columbia had an “average combined math and verbal score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test [of] 1,100 and their grade-point average at their former schools is about 3.0, Boatti said,” according to a 1981 issue of Columbia’s college paper, the Columbia Spectator.

The author of the Columbia Spectator article later disputed the Breitbart website’s account, but he did not disavow the statements attributed to Boatti.

Obama said he had a B+ GPA in Occidental, or roughly 3.3.

Obama’s teachers have offered incomplete reports.

Lennard Davis taught a course called “The Novel and Ideology” during Obama’s senior year. Davis, who now teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago, remains a strong supporter of the president. Asked via email what Obama’s grades were, Lennard replied to TheDC, “[I] don’t remember his grade.”

But another professor, Michael L. Baron, told The New York Times that Obama was “clearly one of the top one or two students in the class.” Baron said he gave Obama an A, and helped him get into Harvard. Baron now lives in Florida.