Two versions of Dubya’s Yale grades

Two versions of Dubya’s Yale grades

George W. Bush’s grades at Yale seem to be far lower than the ones published by the university, according to records of his grades stored at his former residence house.

Yale has an august tradition of housing students in separate residential colleges, not dorms but smaller and more cohesive versions of the college experience. Bush’s residence hall wasDavenport, where his daughter Barbara also lived as a Yale student, graduating in 2004.

So integral to the institution were and are these residential halls that for many years, important records including student grade and discipline records were stored at the individual colleges. This practice continued well up into the twentieth century past the sixties. Then it was decided that it would be good to have them in a more official place, so academic records came to be stored in the registrar’s office. However, the old records continued to be stored in the basements of the twelve residential colleges.

Also, the records stored in the residential halls were not just grades. George W. Bush’s records, for example, contained reports of his undergraduate shenanigans, including his police records.

According to an informed source, the “official school records at the registrar’s office were much kinder” than these other records. The key observations come from recent Yale alumni. One Yale student, offspring of an award winning educator, who graduated in 2002 with a strong undergraduate record, found out while at Yale that Bush had lived in the same residence and was not charmed by this discovery. A number of students were aware that the residences traditionally kept old grade records. This student was among those who went down to the basement, checked the older records physically and looked at them. Students discussed among themselves the disparities between some grades published for Bush and those stored in the residence hall basement. According to anecdote, some of the housed grade records had also been physically altered, with grades whited out or obscured and other grades substituted.

One key question among others would be when the records were altered. Student hearsay has it that the altering took place during the presidential term of the senior Bush, but that may be conjecture generated by stories still floating around the institution from 1998 and beyond about visits from former First Lady Barbara Bush to campus. In the words of one mother of a recent Yale alum, there was “this sense of control” about the visits. “The university was very uncomfortable,” evidently from a sense of influence if not pressure for reasons not publicly clarified. Ties between the first family and the university donor base are deep and longstanding.

The White House has not answered questions, telephoned and emailed in September 2006 and earlier, on this topic.

As most parents know, discipline issues are not entirely separate from grade issues. One observer says, “we just honestly don’t think he [Bush] went to history class.” Bush has said he did attend, but the grade records indicate otherwise. “We don’t think he was ever there.” The cached version of the official presidential biography, from the White House web site, says that Bush graduated from Yale with a BA in history.

Yale students’ proximity to records — under the same roof — was what gave them the information. According to the current webmaster for Davenport Hall,

“Davenport was renovated two years ago, so any files that were stored in the basement were surely moved. I’m not sure anyone would know if they still exist, but the people to ask would be the master and the dean.”

Questions emailed to the pertinent officials have not been answered. Davenport Hall has now been extensively renovated, including its basement. Questions to the architecture firm about archives in the basement have not been addressed.

Davenport Hall, Pierson Hall, Yale

Issues here include the comparative lack of vetting Bush received as a candidate for the White House. While other contenders were being put through the meat grinder, the Bush campaign in Texas and in DC adeptly presented its candidate as a homey Jimmy Stewart type–modest in demeanor, so that his modest accomplishments were a given, to be taken for granted. Thus the secrecy, drift and dishonesty in Bush’s background were largely given a pass.

One large question is why Bush or anyone connected to him would try altering grades. One answer is Vietnam. John Kerry’s clumsy witticism about being stuck in Iraq is a flashback to Vietnam, when any student who flunked out was genuinely liable to be shipped out if his name was not George W. Bush.

Difficult as the Ivy League was to get into, it was notoriously gentle about flunking out a student once admitted, including legacy students like George Walker Bush who would anticipate getting the gentleman’s C in any case.

At this stage, some question remains as to whether Bush attained even that. For family members to go so far as to pressure the institution to keep Bush inside the hedges to keep him stateside, if they did so, he must have been failing. Unfortunately, there is no inherent unlikelihood in this narrative, given the way Bush was leapfrogged over more than a hundred other applicants for the Texas Air National Guard.

George W. Bush in Texas Air National Guard uniform

The deeper issue is character rather than grades. Assuming that these anecdotes are correct, and there is no reason to assume otherwise, they have frattitude written all over them. Any teacher knows that it is one thing to help your fellow students by filing professors’ old tests and passing around copies from previous years; it is quite another to help by passing around answers to a test or copies of a test that students are not supposed to have seen. Studying from old tests rather than going to class may not be the ideal way to learn, but it is minimally legitimate–cramming rather than reading, something most of us have done at some point. The other is cheating. By the same token, it is one thing to oppose all grades, the grading system, on the basis of reasoned argument that grades do not well reinforce learning. It is another to game the existing grading system by dishonesty. Whatever one thinks of grade point averages, class standing, or the grading system in general, there is no argument in favor of altering selected grades ex post facto.

From another perspective, the years that George Walker Bush and Joe Lieberman attended Yale were also years that the Ivies including Yale did not admit women. If the elite institutions had more than doubled their talent pool by admitting women and historically excluded groups, presumably some of these bums would not have gotten in.


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