Friday, July 25, 2008

Obama's Missing Columbia Univ Paper: Another Conservative Red Herring

Conservative columnists have been trying to make a big deal about a paper that Barack Obama wrote when he was a student at Columbia University - they seem to think the fact that no one has a copy is a sign that Obama has something to hide. MSNBC's First Read has the whole story.

Here's the reality - which I happen to know as a Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University:

1. Colleges and universities do not usually keep or formally retain copies of undergraduate papers. If we do not return them to students at the end of the term, we might hold on to them in our offices for a few months into the next term, in case a student wants to come by and pick up the paper. That's it - they're gone after that (even in my messy office).

2. PhD dissertations and sometimes Masters theses are indeed kept on file both by universities, and by central repositories (such as University Microfilms - UMI). But Obama's paper was neither a doctoral dissertation or a masters thesis.

3. In fact, it would be a violation of a student's privacy for a professor to provide any journalist with a copy of a student paper.

4. Students are of course free to do with their papers as they please. But how many of you still have copies of your college papers? I don't (though for some reason I did keep a high school paper I wrote about Charles De Gaulle way back when. Go figure.) But there's no reason to think that Obama kept any of his college papers.

Hey, this whole subject is a good topic for a paper - maybe I'll assign it to my students at Fordham this Fall.
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