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Re: Obama’s College Transcripts


Kevin, I’d also be interested in seeing Obama’s transcripts, though I would be wary of drawing any conclusions about what he’s like today based on courses he sat through more than a quarter-century ago. I assume that as a political-science major, he had to take an economics class or two, though (a) he has probably forgotten everything he learned in them and (b) this being Columbia, it’s probably just as well.

Regarding hubris, I can provide a bit more information, having graduated a year before Obama. There was, and I believe still is, a class somewhat redundantly called Literature Humanities that was required of all students in the college, even chemistry majors like me. Most of the first semester was devoted to stuff by Sophocles and Aristophanes and those guys, and while my memories of Lit Hum are very hazy, there must have been some hubris in there somewhere.

The reason my memories are hazy is that, as you may recall from your own college years, just because something was on the reading list doesn’t mean you read it. At our Class Day, the valedictorian (a classics major), striving for eloquence, said at one point, “Every man in this class has read Plato’s Republic, Oedipus Rex, the Symposium . . .” As he said this, guys all around me were glancing at each other and giggling, no doubt thinking the same thing as me: “Speak for yourself, pal.”

The word “man” in the previous paragraph is correct, by the way. We were the next-to-last all-male class at Columbia; Obama’s (1983) was the last. Now it’s coeducational and they’ve changed the curriculum to include more books written by girls, so there is probably less hubris and more about sharing and caring and building consensus. This came up peripherally in the salutatorian’s speech. He was a political-science major who devoted most of his address to a long rant in favor of a nuclear freeze, a near-suicidal policy dream of the early 1980s that fortunately never came close to being taken seriously in the Reagan administration (though it was a favorite cause of young Barack Obama). And that little boy grew up to be . . . George Stephanopoulos! True story.

Anyway, he introduced his speech by mentioning the recent announcement that the college would soon go coeducational. He said that while he naturally supported equal access for women, he had mixed feelings because “if the college had been coed while I was a student, I would never have become salutatorian.” Most of the audience laughed — some with him, but I suspect more at him — because he was a twerpy-looking nerd just like the rest of us. But considering who he married, I guess the joke was on us.

P.S.  David Remnick’s biography reports that Obama took a class with Edward Said and thought he was a “flake.” So you do have to admire him for that.


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