Obama’s Missing Records Make Research Assignments Difficult

by Christopher Paslay

While preparing a research assignment on our country’s first African American president, I was startled to find much of Barack Obama’s records are missing or sealed from the public.

With the Philadelphia School District now officially adopting Pennsylvania’s Common Core Standards, I’ve been spending time this summer developing lessons and assignments for the coming 2012-13 school year.  In particular, I’m in the process of creating a research essay for my 10th graders, one that meets standard CC.1.4.9-10.W—research writing.      

My initial idea was to have my 10th graders write about our first African American president—Barack Hussein Obama.  The reason I chose President Obama is because of the “Obama Effect,” the premise that Barack Obama’s presence in office has provided a psychological boost and helped African American students achieve academically.

Using President Obama as a subject might indeed serve to inspire my students.  He is the ultimate role model, and all the things he’s done my students could strive to do: they could work to succeed in school; win scholarships and get awarded financial aid; excel in the Ivy League and go to law school; write scholarly articles as a law professor; and maybe one day become president.

To make this real, to show my students firsthand what the president has achieved, I wanted them to go to the primary sources of all of Obama’s personal and academic history over the years.

But when I began researching Obama’s background for my assignment, through the Internet, books, newspaper articles and other sources, I was shocked to find that most of the things I looked for were either missing or sealed from the public by Obama’s lawyers.

Here is a list:

Obama’s High School Records and SAT Scores

President Obama attended Punahou School in Honolulu, one of Hawaii’s top private institutions.  However, Obama has refused to release his high school transcripts and SAT scores to the public, despite numerous requests by citizens and journalists.

Financial Aid and Scholarship Money

Obama’s financial records at the Punahou School and Occidental College have not been released.  This is an ongoing controversy, because some have suggested that Obama enrolled in Occidental College as a foreigner (not a U.S. citizen) to receive aid reserved for foreign students.  World Net Daily writes:

In a legal action, handled largely by Gary Kreep of the U.S. Justice Foundation, officials at Occidental College were served with a demand to produce records concerning Barack Obama’s attendance there during the 1980s because they could document whether he was attending as a foreign national.

Kreep petitioned the college with a demand for its records concerning Obama.

Obama’s lawyers had the petition thrown out.  Both Obama’s Occidental College transcripts and financial records remain sealed; the Obama “foreign national” issue popped up again this spring when a 1991 booklet published by Obama’s literary agency surfaced listing him as being “born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.”

Columbia University Records and Thesis

In 1981, at age 20, Obama transferred from Occidental College to Columbia University.  His transcripts at Columbia also remain sealed.  According to a September 2008 story in the New York Sun:

The Obama campaign has refused to release his college transcript, despite an academic career that led him to Harvard Law School and, later, to a lecturing position at the University of Chicago. The shroud surrounding his experience at Columbia contrasts with that of other major party nominees since 2000, all whom have eventually released information about their college performance or seen it leaked to the public.

His thesis on “Soviet Nuclear Disarmament” also remains unavailable.

Harvard Law School Records

Obama’s Harvard Law School Records are sealed.  So are his LSAT scores.

University of Chicago Scholarly Articles

Obama lectured at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 until 2004.  Reporters have been unable to find any scholarly articles authored by him.

Medical Records

It is customary for presidents running for office to disclose their medical records.  Obama’s medical records have yet to be released.


Obama’s fully visible passport has not been released (in 2010, the White House posted a partially blurred version on their website).

Needless to say, learning that so many of President Obama’s records are sealed or missing was quite startling.  This will clearly change the direction of my research assignment.  Perhaps I will require my students to read one of Obama’s two memoirs—either Dreams From My Father or Audacity of Hope, although Obama himself has admitted that these books are not wholly factual and based on “composites,” shaped and rounded by him and his editors to evoke just the right emotions from readers; some even suggest Obama’s two memoirs were ghost written by a third party.

It would be quite disheartening to learn that the Obama Effect is based on a hoax.  I guess I’ll have to make some adjustments to make my research assignment on Barack Hussein Obama work.

30 thoughts on “Obama’s Missing Records Make Research Assignments Difficult

  1. Hello Chris;
    Interestingly, I picked Randall Kennedy’s book from the library today, “The Persistence of the Color Line, Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency.” I scanned the referenced notes of them do not date past Obama presidency. I have not read the book yet, but I don’t think, Obama’s personal records are going to detract from the Kennedy’s thesis.
    I am willing to concede that during his presidency Obama and his handlers are protecting his “personal records” because they are private or nonpublic and do not relate to or have an effect upon him carrying out of the constitutional, statutory, or other duties as the President. Maybe, when Obama’s Presidential Library is commissioned lots of personal records you are interested in will be available. ( Or maybe A crack journalist will uncover these “personal records.”
    In the mean time we have Obama’s rhetoric and actions to cull from for our student to conduct research and debate about. I would like to call your attention to a Curriculum Unit I developed while participating in Persuasion in Democratic Politics seminar at the Yale National Initiative. “Barack Obama’s Rhetoric: The Trajectory of a Post-Racial America?” http://teachers.yale.edu/curriculum/search/viewer.php?skin=h&id=initiative_10.02.09_u
    The essential question for this unit is: “How persuasive is Barack Obama’s effort to inaugurate a post-Black Identity for Americans?” This unit is intended for students in middle school, but could be adapted for high school students. It has an annotated bibliography and teacher’s and student’s resources sections that you may find useful.
    I can’t wait to learn how your unit turns out.

    • Hey Sam,
      I just read through your curriculum unit, “Barack Obama’s Rhetoric: The Trajectory of a Post-Racial America?” The notion of a “post-Black identity” is interesting, and something that I think is worth exploring with students. Has Ron Whitehorne read this? I wonder what his take is (he seems obsessed with keeping America obsessed with race). You know how I feel . . . America needs to address equity issues but ultimately get passed the fetish with skin color. Anyway, thanks for posting this link. There is some good stuff here that I can use. It could definitely be adapted for high school and might be near that level already. I’ll skim through the references and see if I can plug some of this stuff into my assignment.

    • Crack Journalist? More like crack head. Obama has consistantly done thing different from previous Presidents. Seeing the records from school should be availanle to everyone. Just like a JOB, he is working for US, the people. Dont believe the Hype, edujamaekate Yo-selvf yo

      • From what I have read, W. Bush’s records were made public . . . but not by him. I believe they were gathered without his permission. I would not want to parade around any “C” I made in school either : – ). It is ILLEGAL for institutions to give out transcripts without permission of the student, in this case Barrack Obama. So all of this brouhaha about demanding transcripts form a school is bogus (unless you want them to break the law?). Obama has no obligation to give out his transcripts (though Harvard’s website is very proud he was head of the Law Review there and graduated from there). Romney has no obligation to give out his financial records.

        To Jason Wright – whether you like it or not, Barrack Obama applied for this job in 2008 and won. The electorate spoke as they will this coming November.

  2. http://www.philly.com/philly/wires/ap/news/nation/elections/presidential/201

    Hi Chris,

    This is an article from today’s 7/4/12 Inquirer about Romney’s additional offshore holdings. The article points out that Romney has been less than forthcoming about his total wealth. He also refuses to identify his top campaign contributors.
    I am one of many disappointed by Obama, but I don’t think withholding information is his issue alone. Are the “some” who suggest his memoirs are ghostwritten the same “some” who say he wasn’t born here?


    • Hi Lisa,
      It’s a shame that we live in the kind of environment in America where a person needs to feel guilty about being affluent and successful. We demonize the rich and glorify the poor. Romney needs to strap-on a set and be proud of his accomplishments . . . but he’ll pander for votes and try to find common ground to survive America’s 21st century class warfare society. We need a real 3rd party in this country, and we need it soon.

      • Chris – I don’t think people have a problem with folks who have done well financially but there is a discomfort when Americans start seeing off-shore and Swiss bank accounts. This may be day to day business for some, but Romney is trying to win in an electorate that largely does not share these business strategies. The fortunate may have a 401k, personal savings, etc. Perhaps if Romney becomes president, he can show us how to make money investing abroad. I am open to making money legally.

  3. Chris,

    I am not sure of the point of your article. Are you mad because you cannot see President Obama’s passport to prove he was born in the USA or do you really want students to find the passport as part of a research project? I do not see how the passport would relate to research on a current President unless you feel there is a problem with his citizenship? I also think Lisa brought up the Romney article to point out that all candidates withhold some information. You then went on a rant about people feeling guilty about making money which I don’t think was her point. Do students need to see the college financial records of the President to understand the man?

    I also noticed that you made a point of using all three of President Obama’s names at the end of your article. Were you trying to drive home the point that the documents you are seeking would help clarify the President’s citizenship which we must question because of his name. I only hear folks on FOX news use the Hussein middle name. It is usually to bring attention to his foreign sounding name as something to be worried about and therefore we must see his passport, birth certificate, school records etc.


    • Kathy,

      Here’s my point: when I was in the process of designing a research assignment using President Obama as the subject (for the reasons mentioned in my post), I was quite shocked to find that the bulk of his academic and financial aid records were missing or sealed; I never knew this before. I wanted my students to use the president’s life as an example and him as a role model: look at his SATs, his LSATs, his GPA, his graduate thesis, his writings as President of the Harvard Law Review, the articles he wrote as a professor at University of Chicago Law School. I wanted them to see how he earned scholarships, financial aid, etc. so they could see the process of how he became successful. THAT was the point. Look at the president and see what and how he did what he did so you can do the same and achieve and succeed.

      But none of it is there. None of it. This was genuinely shocking to me, and it does raise questions. I believe that he was born where he says he was born (in Hawaii), but I never realized so much of his past is covered and sealed; the inclusion of his Passport in my post was simply added to the list of things missing. Do you find this strange? Do you have a problem with president’s full name? I don’t. As for Lisa’s comment and my response, I’m not sure why Romney is hedging on showing his financial records–success should be praised, not demonized. But there is a fundamental difference between hesitating to show bank accounts and net worth, and sealing and refusing to release ALL of your past academic records, financial aid and scholarship applications, passport, graduate thesis, medical records, SAT scores, LSAT scores, baptism records, files and schedules of your years as an Illinois state senator from 1997 to 2004, your client list from your time in private practice with the Chicago law firm of Davis, Miner, Barnhill and Gallard, Illinois State Bar Association records, etc. This doesn’t seem strange?

      Hw can students write a research report on the president and use him as a role model when the core of his academic success is hidden. That was my point.

      • Chris,

        The problem is not just with President Obama but all Presidents, presidential and political candidates. I continually hear “I believe” when it should be “We the People believe” and if the President is ask by the People of this nation to disclose any important information they should not hesitate and the qualifications to be President should be immediate and public. As for their studies leading up to becoming the President of the greatest nation on Earth I for one cannot understand why he or she would not what this published. If nothing else for the simple reason you stated, so a research paper could be written by 10th graders on the first black President of the United States. To allow our youth to develop a role model, set attainable goals and strive for excellence. However, the very President that should be a hero and role model for our youth uses high powered attorneys to have his records sealed and fights tooth and nail every attempt to have them opened. These tactics only lead to speculation, questions and political frenzy. This is not the example the leader of the United States of American or any political leader should set and yet it has become common practice. I do not want to start a political debate but every politician should be deathly scared of “We the People” and yet they scoff at the very idea.


  4. My reply would be- are these documents normally available for the current President? Were would one find someone’s SAT scores from HS? Just curious as I know I don’t have mine.


  5. Financial and academic records are readily available for presidents and candidates running for office. For example, Bush and Gore’s records were made public by the Washington Post when they were running in 2000. Here is a link: http://www.insidepolitics.org/heard/heard32300.html

    This is standard operating procedure. To get these records the student must give consent to have them released from their respective school or university. If you want any of your own records (transcripts, SAT scores, etc.), just contact your school or the testing organization, sign a release, and have them sent to you. The thing with Obama (and his lawyers) is that he refuses to agree to release this information. When the U.S. Justice Foundation filed a petition to see his financial records at Occidental College on the belief that Obama was enrolled there as a foreigner (not a U.S. citizen)—to see if Obama was gaming the system and receiving aid reserved for foreign students—Obama refused to release his records and had his lawyers work to throw the petition out.

    I’m not making this stuff up, although the media has never covered this. Just Google “Obama missing records” and you’ll see for yourself. It blows my mind, and I can’t believe I didn’t know about any of this until recently.


  6. I did Google Obama’s records and found that things are not exactly as you say. First of all there seems to be no evidence that his records were sealed by any court order. No one has shown the court order and apparently court records are public. So if they are public where is the court order? And secondly school records and I am assuming financial records are already private so why would the President need to have them sealed. I think you said that I would have to call my HS school to get my SAT scores released.

    As best as I can tell most of the so called ‘sealing of records” articles I found on Google are being used to confirm the idea that Obama is not a USA citizen. I believe they are coming from the right and being used to further their beliefs that Obama is hiding things.

    Also I looked for Clinton and Reagan’s college grades and did not find any newspaper article that listed them like Bush and Gore. I think much of this college grade stuff is a result of the current right v. left politics of talk TV and radio. And didn’t Obama already release his income tax records while Romney dragged his feet on that.

    You really have no proof other than articles on the Internet that he had his records sealed. I also found an article that said GWB never released his college grades. It said some New York magazine reporter found them.

    So I am not so sure Obama is really hiding as much as you say he is. If you want your students to do research to me that would be finding and reading primary sources by Obama -letters written, TV interviews, books written by Obama, analyzing his voting record in the Senate, reading his speeches, watching him in press conferences- all things that would help students understand the man. His passport or his college financial records, even his college grades are not why there is an Obama effect on young black students. It is the man they see on TV and I would analyze what they see, not what some folks with political axes to grind say he is hiding. I think helping students wade through all the political rhetoric of today’s politics might be a more meaningful way to study the man and the Obama effect.


  7. Kathy,

    I realize we’ve gotten off track from the concept of my original assignment, but I swear I’m not going crazy. First: Rep. Edolphous Towns (D-NY) has introduced the Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2011. That bill would do with Obama’s presidential records what Obama has already done to his personal and collegiate records: Seal them up. Click HERE to read the bill.

    Second: From The Washington Times (May 28, 2012) “Obama ducks calls to release his collegiate transcripts”. Here is a link: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/may/28/obama-ducks-calls-to-release-his-collegiate-transc/

    Pay attention to the 15th paragraph: “The same story falsely claimed that Occidental released Mr. Obama’s college transcripts as a result of litigation. There was litigation, but courts have never ordered the college to turn over Mr. Obama’s records.”

    These are facts. Please stop saying this is some sort of political propaganda.


  8. Where is the evidence that President Obama has “sealed” his personal and collegiate records? You make this statement but I don’t see any proof. The article states that there was litigation but does not say what kind or where? The bill has only been introduced. Has it passed? In the article you linked it states that Romney also has not released his college records. DId he have them sealed? Why no outrage for Romney? It also states that Obama released his income tax returns and Romney has not. Again where is the outrage? Maybe if Romney releases his collegiate record Obama will. Then we can compare and see who was the smartest in college since that seems to be so important to so many folks.

    I personally could care less about someone’s college grades so maybe I don’t see what you are seeing.

    I think and yes I know you disagree, that this is a non-story that you and others are making into a real story, sort of like the whole birther story. When President Obama released his birth certificate many believed it was a fake. He can’t win. It turned out there was no sinister plot hiding anything. He was born in Hawaii. I suppose if he releases his college transcripts folks will say they are fakes just like they did with the birth certificate. i would ask the students to research something they can find real information on such as Obama’s voting record in Indiana and the US Senate and his actions as President- not something written in a newspaper which may or may not be a fact. I would help the students compare what Obama said in his campaign speeches to what he has actually done. I would compare his work in Indiana to his current work as President. I would get a copy of the Affordable Health Care Act ( aka Obamacare) and read it. I would help the students figure out what the bill actually does and will do in the future. To me these would be useful assignments and might help the students understand the Obama effect, which I think was the purpose of your assignment.


    • Kathy,

      It seems like we’re going round-and-round in circles–but hey, it’s good to live in a place where we are afforded the right to do so. I just want to say that I appreciate your readership here on this blog, and for being so passionate in our discussion. We might interpret things differently, but that’s what keeps things fresh and lively. To quote the great Forrest Gump, “And that’s all I have to say about that.”



  9. I did put Obama in the wrong state, should have been Illinois.

    Thanks for blogging. We need more teacher conversation because I also believe it is the teachers who can change the schools, not the administrators or the SRC or even an overpaid CEO.

  10. This is not class warfare. It’s math. The money is going to have to come from someplace. And if we’re not willing to ask those who’ve done extraordinarily well to help America close the deficit and we are trying to reach that same target of $4trillion, then the logic, the math says everybody else has to do a whole lot more: We’ve got to put the entire burden on the middle class and the poor. We’ve got to scale back on the investments that have always helped our economy grow. We’ve got to settle for second-rate roads and second-rate bridges and second-rate airports, and schools that are crumbling.

  11. What the problem is that we knew everything there was to know about John McCain and Sara Palin. Right down to when she first started having her menstrual cycles.

    The same with Romney. We know more about him, his family and the people who support him, than we do our own families. Mainstream media has spent millions doing the in-depth, background research on everyone BUT Obama and his supporters..

    As usual, his words don’t match his actions. He claims to be the transparent President, when in fact he is anything but. He wants to be a role model like the Hollywood celebrities. Do nothing, but get credit for everything. He is the “don’t look at what I do, look at what I say” president.

    Like any good minority democrat, he doesn’t want others to be like him, so he won’t tell them how he “made it”… If other African Americans caught wind of how you can make ot from poverty to the white house, the democratic party would lose their primary voting block…

  12. Obama said himself in public and recorded and put on TV that he has nothing to hide? Then why not his background? The more you check his background the weider it gets? Dont you want to know the background of your President? Do you know how many residences he has had? Do you know he does not have a Lawyers license? Do you really know what jobs he has had? His schools and grades? His mentors? Anything about him really? Besides being a good speaker and teleprompter reader? Why not produce a birth cert? Why did it take Donald Trump to get him to produce that fake one? The one he did produce is far from right. Even when I am hired to take a job here in the US I have to provide a real birth cert with a textured stamped seal or embosment on it you can feel. Would you really trust someone that has blocked almost all info about themselves? Dont you want to know the background of anyone who would baby sit you child or work for you? Date you daughter? If you care you will look into Obama’s back ground and find it is really weird and not anything like a typical american.. Check it!!!!

  13. Hello, I am just an interested party looking at information on this subject which has morphed into “”non-disclosure by the two front-runner candidates for president.”” It appears from the punctuation and grammar that this has gone way beyond teacher inquiries (e.g. “ric roh’s entry). It will be interesting to follow up myself on this and maybe I can answer some of the questions that have come up. I would especially like to find out about lazy sentences that say “there was litigation” then comes to a conclusion about what outcome of the litigation was. Thank you,

  14. Regarding both of the Obama’s law licenses, FactCheck.org says:
    “Q: Did Barack and Michelle Obama “surrender” their law licenses to avoid ethics charges?
    A: No. A court official confirms that no public disciplinary proceeding has ever been brought against either of them, contrary to a false Internet rumor. By voluntarily inactivating their licenses, they avoid a requirement to take continuing education classes and pay hundreds of dollars in annual fees. Both could practice law again if they chose to do so.


  15. Chris,

    As a fellow educator, I stumbled on your blog and am disturbed by the tone of your comments. I have to concur with Kathy. As educators, we have to try to be unbiased. I, too, am having my students do a research paper on who they would vote for. I agree that it would be nice to see the school records and possibly inspiring to your students. Bu you are quoting a ton of false information! Our job is to teach students to wade through to find the truth. The fact that all other Presidents release their college records is not true! Did you evaluate your sources? Because you don’t cite any and if you we’re in my class, you would fail the project! Please cite your sources. I am not against Romney, I am merely trying to point out that there is so much misinformation–see the strange poster birthers that are replying! We need to educate not obfuscate.


    • Hi Deb,

      Just curious: Did you read my initial post, or just skim it? I’m not having my students do a paper on who they would vote for; my plan was to have them do a research paper on Barack Obama, the first African American president. Also, I never said that “all other president release their college records.” I said Bush and Gore’s college records were made public by the Washington Post, and that college records for presidents were “readily available.” There is a big difference. You say I don’t cite sources, yet I provide links to credible sources–Washington Post, Washington Times, Inside Politics, etc. These don’t count as sources? Are you saying the Washington Post supplies bogus information?

      Go back and actually read my initial post before you let your emotions get the best of you (and before you start giving out advice). Then go back and actually read my responses to the comments here and you’ll see that I’ve already addressed your objections more than once. Your quibble comes down to semantics–“sealed” versus “not released.” You sound like a very passionate and enthusiastic teacher–and also very young. If I were you, before you offer advice and accuse others of giving out false information (and before you start throwing around such cliches as “We need to educate not obfuscate”), you need to read the articles and subsequent comments you are criticizing more thoroughly, so as not to mangle the information contained in them so badly.

      Thanks for writing,

      Chris Paslay

  16. Chris. I am not a teacher. I stumbled on this conversation while looking up information related to Obama’s potential refusal to release records and forego Trump’s $5M offer. My understanding is that even if he was born overseas he would still be eligible to be President because his mother is a natural-born citizen and saying he would not be is a misinterpretation of the law. Like others replying to you I believe your assignment was not a sincere attempt to motivate your students to achieve while also teaching them research skills but was indeed a way to further another agenda which has no place in the classroom. If it walks like a duck…..

  17. Obama is a poor role model. His Czars are not approved of by the Senate or overseen by Congress, and everyone of them is a known criminal. You should read some of the books about Obama’s attitude toward America, before you sell him as a hero of any kind.

  18. Thanks for this article. For some reason I decided to look into Obama’s background as I was curious about the man. I’m not American so missed most of the debates re his birth certificate. The more I look the stranger his background seems. It also seems that there are virtually no records on his mother or grandparents. This is going to sound weird but I’m seriously starting to think that his grandfather and mother were part of the CIA, and he basically is too.

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