Why you should care
Because college is about more than Bush getting C’s or smoking some weed.
I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.
This seems to be the unspoken rule surrounding presidential candidates’ histories. Tax returns? Sure, I’ll release them — just make sure Mitt does too. Health records? OK, but so-and-so is pretty old too — how’s his ticker? Rules for disclosure in presidential elections are surprisingly nil. We can see who funds whom (sort of), and we can see voting records. But everything else? We’re limited to the mistress who shows up on CNN in the middle of the campaign or the hubbub that may emerge around tax payments or the lack thereof. Or, in the latest case, the pressure looming over Hillary Clinton and her emails, aka Benghazi 2.0.
The trouble, we figure, is that while all that information is useful, it doesn’t much tell us who is getting our votes. Because if the so-called beer test — which candidate would you rather grab a beer with? — is real, then personality matters. So herein, an idea, admittedly one from someone who’d much prefer to grab a beer with someone who has some secret nerd in them: Upon announcing their candidacy, candidates should universally sign away privacy rights to their undergrad papers, essays and even theses. Those, after all, are the places where many of our (quite smart, despite all the bashing) candidates did their growing up.
Politics, particularly during election season, rarely have room for complexity.
Attorney and professor at California State University Brian Levin has advocated for releasing all college transcripts. “For practically every other professional job candidate, we ask for these records,” he says. More information equals a better informed electorate, he figures, and papers might be a deeper way into that. Law school papers, in which students follow rigorous lines of argument à la the justices, might be particularly useful, says William & Mary professor of political science Rebecca Green. Plus, public figures should expect less privacy than the rest of us, she adds.
We have some precedent for this, beyond that time Donald Trump offered Obama $5 million to release his transcripts. Seemingly folksy Ted Cruz, for instance, released his 1992 Princeton thesis, in which he proves to be straight-out brilliant. That itself may be a revelation for some; so, too, would be the insight it offers into what the legal whiz and former Rehnquist clerk had to say about “rights” and “powers” — in other words, key principles for a tea partyer. And shouldn’t we stop mocking and instead start understanding what the brains of our potential leaders are stuffed with? Or take the buzz about Hillary, whose senior thesis on famous left-wing activist Saul Alinsky earned her a job offer from the guy. A package of 1971 correspondence with Alinsky came our way last year, painting a picture of a younger Rodham teetering on the precipice of more radical politics but seduced by the practicality of moderation. Now, that’s someone I want to get a beer with.
Of course, politics, particularly during election season, rarely have room for complexity, and as Levin fairly points out, it’d be easy for something written decades ago — arguably juvenilia — to be “misinterpreted.” Students should be able to push intellectual limits, play devil’s advocate, test ideas. Student privacy laws, after all, are around for a reason, Green also says; she worries about academic freedom, even self-censorship. And, yes, the proposal is a tad elitist, but Levin says that’s why we should couple it with a full employment history and a true, clear, concise blurb from each candidate about, well, what they actually believe. Really, all we want is less Trump v. Megyn Kelly and more real thoughts.