The recent news about West Virginia University awarding a master’s degree (that she apparently didn’t earn) to the governor’s daughter, prompts us to look more closely at what degrees actually mean. And, it’s not surprising that some attention should focus on President George Bush. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the Bush policies and whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or Independent you need to wonder how George Bush received a bachelor’s degree from Yale University in history. His lack of knowledge of history is actually quite glaring and so I wonder how he ever got a degree from Yale. I wouldn’t have been graduated from P.S. 3 in the Bronx without knowing some very basic facts of history (to say nothing of geography) that Bush didn’t seem to know.
But, this is not about Bush or about Heather Bresch (the Governor’s daughter who received the degree from WVU). Rather, this is about education and the people’s right to know. Specifically, Yale and Harvard and probably most of the Ivy League actively recruit high-profile students—especially students who are the sons and daughters of famous (and rich) parents. Not only will these universities be in line for massive financial donations but they also get lots of publicity from presidents, senators, and the like who sport a degree from their institution.
The fact that George Bush had a degree from Yale likely influenced some voters—after all, it’s not unlikely that people felt comfortable voting for a person who went to one of the most prestigious universities in the world—surely he must be intelligent and knowledgeable. But, that turned out not to be the case and so we wonder how he got that degree from Yale. Very likely we’ll never know. But, we can do something so that this doesn’t happen again. The proposal is very simple: whenever someone runs for political office in the United States, his or her complete college record should become public information. Much like a candidate’s tax returns are made public, so should the candidate’s college records. There are several good reasons for this proposal:
1. Colleges would be put on notice that their degrees have to be earned.
2. The government, especially since 9/11, has access to phone records, bank accounts, tax returns, surveillance videos, Internet searches, DNA data, and a host of other information on the average citizen. Why shouldn’t the average citizen (the voter) know about the educational background of someone running for office?
3. The educational background—and here I mean courses taken, grades earned, papers written, SAT scores, attendance records—the whole nine yards—of a political candidate. We have a right to know this because this is part of who the candidate is and because this will influence what that candidate does in office which in turn will impact everyone of us. We have the right to information that is relevant to the choices we make, in this case who we vote for. Whether any individual chooses to use this information when he or she votes, is of course up to the individual; some will likely use it and some won’t.
4. When a college hires a professor, a committee (sometimes several committees) looks carefully at the courses taken, the letters of recommendation, the dissertation written, and lots more. This is information that is relevant to the job for which the person is being considered. Isn’t this information also relevant to our selection of political candidates? And, in the case of a potential president of the United States, isn’t this information essential?