When President Obama gave the commencement address last week at the Air Force Academy, he congratulated the cadets for excelling at one of the most demanding schools in the country.
But decades after Mr. Obama completed his own college course work, his academic performance is still a mystery. Before and after his election as president, Mr. Obama has refused to release his college transcripts from his days as an undergraduate and a law school student.
Most presidents’ academic records are made public by the time they reach the highest office in the land, either with their consent or by someone else digging them up.
“There’s no reason why people shouldn’t know,” said Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who focuses on the presidency. “At this point, it’s pretty moot — perhaps amusing if it turned out that he didn’t do very well.”
But whenever Team Obama is asked about the president’s college performance, officials dodge the question, obviously with Mr. Obama’s blessing.
The White House press office refers such questions to campaign officials, who in turn refuse to provide any information. The Obama campaign didn’t respond to questions for this article.
Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney also hasn’t released the transcripts of his college years at Brigham Young University, or his four years at Harvard University where he earned a combined law degree and an MBA.
A Romney campaign spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request on whether Mr. Romney intends to release his college records.
But it is known that Mr. Romney graduated cum laude from the law school in 1975, and was named a Baker Scholar for graduating in the top 5 percent of his business school class. (Unlike Mr. Obama, the former Massachusetts governor also has not released his 2011 tax returns but said he will do so before the November election.)
Another stonewaller in recent presidential politics was Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic nominee in 2004, who refused to release his college transcripts during the campaign against President George W. Bush.
The Democrat finally relented in 2005, six months after he lost the election, revealing that he had received four D’s in his freshman year, including a political science course. It also turned out that his grade-point average at Yale University in the 1960s was nearly identical to Mr. Bush‘s, despite the media’s portrayal during the campaign of Mr. Kerry as the more intellectual candidate and the common image of Mr. Bush as dumb.
The years-long secrecy about Mr. Obama’s college records has led to accusations that he is trying to hide something — for example, grades that might have justified neither his transfer to Columbia University in 1981 from Occidental College, a small school in Los Angeles where he was on a scholarship, nor his acceptance into Harvard Law School in 1988.