9 Presidential Candidates Who Weren't Great Students

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The Huffington Post recently released a copy of Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry’s college transcript from Texas A&M. The academic picture wasn’t pretty. Perry struggled in some familiar classes (an F in organic chemistry, a D in economics) and some bizarre ones (a C in gym, a D in something the transcript labeled only as “Meats").

Are Perry’s low college marks all that astonishing for a high-profile politician? Apparently not. Let’s take a look at a few other big names who didn’t light the academic world on fire.

1. Al Gore
Gore’s the brainiest politician around, right? Possibly, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at his Harvard transcript. Gore apparently spent quite a bit of time loafing during his sophomore year, and some of his grades weren't very good: a D, a C-minus, two C’s, two C-pluses, and a B-minus, marks that put him in the lowest fifth of his class. Strangely enough, the D came in a class that sounds like it would be right in Gore’s wheelhouse: Natural Sciences 6 (Man’s Place in Nature).

2. George W. Bush
Gore’s foe in the 2000 presidential election takes a lot of ribbing for his intellect, but his college grades at Yale were more mediocre than embarrassing. Through his first three years at Yale, Bush’s grades averaged out to 77 on a 100-point scale. He only received one D during his college career, in an astronomy course.

3. John Kerry

Like Bush, Kerry attended Yale. And he had some really rotten grades, particularly during his freshman year. As a Yale frosh, Kerry rang up D’s in geology, two history classes, and – strangely enough for a future Senator – political science. While Kerry’s 2004 campaign presented him as a more cerebral alternative to Bush, the two men’s grades at Yale were roughly equivalent.

4. Dan Quayle
Quayle’s academic struggles didn’t start with his infamously ill-fated attempt to spell “potato.” According to a 1988 Cleveland Plain Dealer story, he wasn’t a bang-up student at DePauw University, either. Quayle’s grades were so lousy that he wouldn’t ordinarily have been able to earn admission into Indiana University’s law school, but he secured a spot thanks to an equal opportunity program. During the 1988 presidential campaign a Quayle spokesman explained that high marks were simply hard to come by at DePauw.

5. George H.W. Bush
When Quayle’s middling college grades became a story during the 1988 campaign, running mate George H.W. Bush defended his eventual VP and revealed a bit of his own classroom struggle. Bush joked, ''I refuse to release my high school transcript because I failed chemistry and I don't want anyone to know that.''

6. John McCain
McCain excelled at a lot of things during his time at the United States Naval Academy, including boxing. McCain’s classes knocked him out, though. His grades were so poor that in his graduating class of 899, he earned spot 894 in the rankings.

7. Joe Biden
By all accounts, Biden wasn’t the world’s greatest student, but he made up for his academic shortcomings with sheer likability. Biden ranked 506th out of 688 students in the University of Delaware’s class of 1965, but a professor still recommended him for law school “on grounds of personality and general promise.” The future VP didn’t exactly turn on the jets once he got to law school, either. He finished 76th in his class of 85 students at Syracuse, and admitted to plagiarism in his first year of law school. But again, a dean recommended him for a job on the basis of his “confidence,” “general physical appearance,” and “general speaking ability.”

8. Franklin Pierce
It’s not just modern politicians who goofed around in college. When Pierce attended Bowdoin College, he spent so much time hanging out with friends, including a young Nathaniel Hawthorne, that at one point he was ranked dead last in his class. He eventually found some motivation and worked his way up to fifth in his class.

9. Richard Nixon
Unlike the other names on this list, Nixon was actually an excellent student. After Whittier College, Nixon went on to Duke Law, where he graduated third in his class in 1937. He also served as president of the Duke Bar Association. But we're including him because his good grades didn't earn him much respect from his alma mater.

In 1954, a committee recommended that then-VP Nixon be given an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, and Nixon agreed to be the graduation speaker. However, after vociferous debate, a faculty panel voted down the recommendation, and Nixon bailed on the commencement address.

Over a quarter-century later, Duke President Terry Sanford pushed to build Nixon’s presidential library on campus, even meeting with Nixon himself to work out the details. However, a similar faculty committee killed the idea. The Nixon Library ended up in Yorba Linda, California.

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September 22, 2011 - 7:35am
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