Likely presidential candidate Rick Perry’s college transcript at Texas A & AM has been published. Here are the highlights:
…In his freshman and sophomore year, Perry struggled with core science classes, earning D’s in several organic chemistry classes and C’s in general chemistry and physics.
But after Perry switched his major at the beginning of his fall semester in 1970, his grades didn’t improve. Perry got a C in Reproduction in Farm Animals, a C in genetics, a D in Feeds & Feeding, a C in Sheep & Angora Goat Production and two C’s in animal breeding classes.
Many of Perry’s other classes involved military education. Perry has previously credited his time in the A&M Corps of Cadets with giving him the necessary discipline to complete school.
Perry got two C’s in Development of Air Power and took four levels of World Military Systems, earning two C’s, a B and an A. The A was one of only two Perry earned at college — the other was for a class called Improv. of Learning.
The future governor only took one political science class while he was in school — American National Government, for which he earned a B. Other classes outside of Perry’s major included Shakespeare and Writing for Professional Men, which earned him two D’s.
Perry took two summer sessions before his senior year but still needed two more after the rest of his class graduated to complete a degree. He graduated in August of 1972.
The article goes on to note that George W. Bush, John F. Kerry, and Al Gore Jr. were all mediocre students. John McCain was famously a poor student at the Naval Academy (though the I.Q. scores of all four are in the 1.5 to 2 standard deviations above the mean, so a lot of this is laziness and complacency). But what about Perry’s rivals? I suspect Mitt Romney is not going to want his transcript released, but that’s because he’s smart enough that his stellar grades are going to accentuate his “pointy-headed” nerd reputation. Romney transferred from Stanford to be with his future wife at B.Y.U. and graduated as a valedictorian. He enrolled at a joint law & business program at Harvard, graduating cum laude in the former (top 1/3) and a Baker Scholar in the latter (top 5 percent). He later went on to become a management consultant, a profession which puts a premium on raw general intelligence (whether this sector as a whole adds that much value in the greater economy is a different issue, but it certainly adds value to the consultants, as they leverage their cleverness into big paychecks).
Finally there’s Barack H. Obama. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law, but to my knowledge his standardized test scores and grades from Occidental and Columbia have never been released. Why? I can think of two possible reasons. He received some affirmative action considerations in his transfer to Columbia and acceptance into Harvard Law School, which he capitalized upon effectively (becoming editor of the law review and graduating magna cum laude). So he would want to emphasize the later upswing of his higher education career (recall that George W. Bush received class-based affirmative action to obtain a spot at Harvard Business School). Or, like Romney Obama does not want to release his transcripts because he already has a reputation of being a pointy-headed nerd, and doesn’t want to exacerbate that any further.
In general I’m for democracy. But I’m not a big fan of this fake populism whereby conventionality and mediocrity in academics is acceptable, even a badge of honor, in our candidates for head of state. In contrast our political executives are tall and slim, on the tails of the distribution in physical metrics! (shorter candidates like George W. Bush and John McCain are usually short only for politicians, not for the general male population) I don’t expect presidential candidates to have grasped the basics of topology or quantum chemistry. But do we really want the person who has their finger on the nuclear button to be that personable and likable guy whose primary aim was to not fail? I suspect we do if the range of candidates is a judge. My own personal sympathies in regards to Romney vs. Perry are probably obvious, but if I had to bet I would go with Perry. He has “people skills.” Romney is, as Mike Huckabee famously observed, the boss who is going to fire you. But sometimes people need to be fired, including the electorate. Though I guess that’s not a good attitude to take in a democracy.
Image credit: Gage Skidmore