September 18, 2011

Politicians Pulling for Grade Inflation, Too

Print More

It’s recruitment season on campus and networking is in the air. Last week Cornell held both the general interest and technical career fairs, as everyone may have surmised upon witnessing flocks of suit-donning young gentleman and young ladies in pumps contending with the steepest parts of Libe Slope. As students flirted with potential employers, one looming issue must have been on many students minds: how important will my G.P.A. be to them?

Ideally, we’d like to think not too much. Most agree that the little number at the bottom of our transcripts is, at best, a very flawed indicator of our overall academic experience. The idea that such a small figure could determine our futures is very frightening. Very few would ever posit that one’s intellectual capacity, or ability to perform a certain job well, could be condensed into a single numeric value. But then again, without such a quantitative assessment employers would have a very difficult time distinguishing, even arbitrarily, between candidates. Furthermore, as all Cornellians know, these numbers can often work in one’s favor, especially if one has put in substantial time to foster them.

As much as we may hate to imagine a world in which our college grades determine our entire careers, however, our worldview is called into check when we look at the dismal academic record of some of the current Republican presidential candidates.

To be fair, anti-intellectualism in the Republican Party can be seen as a legitimate populist desire —  many Americans would prefer a decisive and scrappy commander-in-chief than a professor at the joint-session lectern. The majority would hope, however, that such a culture would breed a different type of successful candidate — along the lines of former Governor Mitt Romney, the adept businessman; or former Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., a diplomat who learned to speak fluent Chinese while abroad on missionary work. Even if critics disagree with their political positions, there is no denying that at the very least, they show a reasonable command of the issues at play.

Yet the rise of G.O.P. front-runner and Texas Governor Rick Perry has forced many eye-rubbing progressives to question the limits of America’s second-chance culture. Perry graduated from Texas A&M in a very loose sense, earning a G.P.A. of just below 2.0 and flunking Organic Chemistry, despite being an Animal Science major. “A&M wasn’t exactly Harvard on the Brazos River,” a former classmate told the Huffington Post. “We always kind of laughed. He was always kind of a joke.”

These poor marks wouldn’t be so much of an issue if the Governor had experienced some sort of adulthood education and now demonstrated remarkable progress. But Perry’s frequent campaign gaffs force the public to question whether or not a candidate can be critiqued for earning a C in U.S. History. There is a line between elitism and over-forgiveness, and Perry’s statements regarding evolution as just another theory and claiming that climate change is merely a possibility often force critics to wonder if the Texas Governor just isn’t too bright.

Perry is not the only G.O.P. candidate with whom academic complaints can be made. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann proved that she does not know the least bit about gathering scientific data when she claimed at the most recent debate that the HPV vaccine caused mental retardation in the daughter of a woman she met on the campaign trail, despite the fact there exist no documented cases of such a side-effect. Should America really elect a woman that shares Perry’s skeptical views on climate change and evolution and remarked that the recent earthquake and hurricane on the East Coast were God’s punishment for political stalemate in Washington?

I don’t know whether it’s scarier to think that someone who believes these comments could gain so much support in a national election or that politicians would manipulate the public’s naiveté so adroitly and seemingly get away with it. No, not every politician needs to be a verifiable genius, but one would hope that the leader of the world’s largest military knew about the implications of his or her claims and had a firm grasp on the real issues facing the world. There is an explicit difference between misquotations and common gaffs on a rigorous campaign trail and egregiously faulty relationship with reality displayed above. Voters can only hope that such a persona doesn’t make it to the White House in 2012.

Original Author: Adam Lerner