NEW YORK – Two separate database reports from the National Student Clearinghouse have contradicted President Obama's claim he attended Columbia University for two years. The reports have added to the intrigue generated by Obama's unwillingness to discuss his time at the Ivy League institution, his refusal to release educational records, and the fact that many political science students and faculty there in the early 1980s say they don't remember him.
Swirling amid the black hole of information are a host of theories about Obama's whereabouts – particularly during the 1981-1982 school year – including speculation he was working for the CIA in Pakistan.
Now, the clearinghouse, with permission from Columbia, has decided to make an exception to its media policy and address WND's inquiry into the discrepancy. Why do clearinghouse records indicate Obama was at the school only during the 1982-83 school year while Obama and Columbia's spokesman have insisted he began attending the New York City school in the fall of 1981?
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Janine Greenwood, vice president and general counsel for the clearinghouse, told WND there was a "computer error" in their system that has been corrected. She said she confirmed with Columbia that Obama was at the university for two academic years, not one.
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Greenwood said she "tried to untangle this" discrepancy one year ago after two "DegreeVerify certificates" from the Herndon, Va.-based clearinghouse –obtained through a fee-based request – indicated Obama attended Columbia College at Columbia University only in the 1982-1983 academic year, from Sept. 1, 1982 until May 31, 1983, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree May 17, 1983.
"All I know is [the record] was right originally, and somewhere along the line it went off the rails, and then it was right again," she said.
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"We basically had two records running simultaneously, and it just depended on how you input the name and the other information as to which records you got," she explained to WND in an interview Friday.
Greenwood confirmed a disclaimer on the clearinghouse website stating the organization relies on the accuracy of the information supplied by each educational institution and cannot edit, modify or delete any student degree or enrollment data.
Founded in 1993, the clearinghouse describes itself as "the nation's trusted source for education verification and student educational outcomes research." Participating colleges and universities provide the clearinghouse with enrollment and degree information on their students and authorize it to respond on their behalf for degree confirmation in conformity with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974.
The two separate reports indicating Obama attended Columbia for only one year were generated in March 2011. One, obtained by lawyer Orly Taitz, was used in a court filing contesting Obama's eligibility. The other found its way to Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Cold Case Posse investigating Obama's eligibility for the presidential ballot in Arizona.
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She said she contacted the Columbia registrar's office last year to clear up the discrepancy.
"We have confirmed with Columbia that the two years was the correct record," she said.
However, Columbia's top media spokesman – who says the issue of Obama's attendance at the university is his "beat," as all questions on the matter are routed to him – told WND a day before the interview with Greenwood that he couldn't explain why the database reports indicated Obama attended Columbia only one year. Robert Hornsby said he was unaware of any contact between Columbia and the National Student Clearinghouse regarding the discrepancy.
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After the interview Friday with Greenwood, WND asked Hornsby in a follow-up email to confirm that he had no knowledge of the fact that the clearinghouse says it resolved the issue one year ago.
Hornsby confirmed he was unaware of the contact but insisted "that does not alter the facts, which are clear."
In the Thursday interview, Hornsby said regarding the clearinghouse's information: "I don't know what they're basing their information on or what their system is for logging, but I can confirm, as a matter of fact, that President Obama was here in September 1981 as a transfer student from Occidental."
Asked whether he had personally seen a transcript that would verify Obama attended classes during the 1981-82 school year, Hornsby said, "You're looking for proof I cannot provide."
He noted academic records are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, "and we don't talk about any student's academic records, presidents or otherwise."
Hornsby said his information is based on confirmation from "people that have the authority" in the registrar's office.
"I can't help you by giving you some more solid thing about having seen a transcript or anything like that," he told WND. "Our records show he was here, and that's what we're standing by. I don't really have anything else to say."
Obama's autobiography “Dreams from My Father,” the Columbia University website and two best-selling biographies by authors favorably disposed to the president all assert Obama attended Columbia for two years, from 1981 to 1983.
Unlike previous presidents, however, Obama has refused to release any transcripts or other documentation regarding his education, going back to Kindergarten.
Is Obama constitutionally eligible to serve? Here's WND's complete archive of news reports on the issue
Arpaio's lead investigator in the eligibility probe, Mike Zullo, provided to WND the National Student Clearinghouse report it obtained, which was derived from a paid request to the clearinghouse.
Two weeks ago, WND submitted two paid inquiries – one with the name Barry Soetoro and the other with Barack Hussein Obama – to the National Student Clearinghouse to confirm the previous reports. The clearinghouse acknowledged receipt of the inquiries but gave no further information.
Did he attend classes at Columbia?
Henry Franklin Graff, professor emeritus of history at Columbia for 46 years, has cast doubt on claims Obama attended classes at the New York City university.
“I have no recollection of Barack Obama at Columbia, and I am sure he never attended any of my classes,” Graff told WND in a telephone interview.
“For 46 years, I taught political history, diplomatic history and one of the pioneering courses on presidential history, and every future politician of note who went through Columbia in those years took one or more of my classes – every one, that is, except Barack Obama.”
Graff further told WND no professor he knew could remember having Obama as a student at Columbia.
“Nobody I knew at Columbia ever remembers Obama being there,” Graff insisted.
The undocumented student
On Nov. 5, 2008, Columbia University celebrated Obama’s election as president by publishing an article in Columbia News titled “Barack Obama, CC ’83, First Columbia Graduate Elected President of the United States.”
“Obama attended Columbia College from 1981 to 1983, after transferring in his junior year from Occidental College,” the article read in part.
In his 2010 biography of Obama, “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama,” journalist David Remnick states on pages 112-113 that Obama moved to New York City in the summer of 1981 to co-occupy an apartment at 142 West 109th Street, off Amsterdam Avenue, with Occidental friend Phil Boerner.
Remnick does not provide footnotes to document the claims, however.
Two pages later, Remnick recounts how on the night of Nov. 24, 1982, Obama's father was killed driving drunk in Nairobi, “during Obama’s first semester of his senior year at Columbia,” with the assumption this was Obama’s second academic year at Columbia.
Remnick footnotes the passage regarding the death of Obama's father on page 215 with a reference to an article by Jon Meacham titled “On His Own,” published in Newsweek Sept. 1, 2008.
Meacham’s mention of Obama attending Columbia is so limited that he fails to specify the amount of time Obama spent attending classes at the university.
In his 2012 biography of Obama, “Barack Obama: The Story,” author and editor David Maraniss recounts, beginning on page 418, an Obama move to New York City on Aug. 25, 1981, “a week before orientation day at Columbia College.”
On pages 465-466, Maraniss writes of Obama’s last month at Columbia, May 1983:
[Obama] had received mostly A’s in his coursework during those two years, he said later, and finished with a 3.7 grade point average. Including his two years at Occidental, his college education had cost about fifty thousand dollars for the four years and was a family effort. About half came from scholarships and student loans, a bit from the off-the-books part-time summer jobs, and most of the rest from his grandmother, Tut, who had devoted part of her salary each year to his education.
Although the passage is not accompanied by a footnote, the reference “he said later” suggests Maraniss got the information from Obama himself or from interviews in which Obama presented the information.
The “off-the-books” part-time summer employment is unlikely to be independently verified. Nor does Maraniss produce any Columbia transcript or reference to a transcript that would document the grade-point average. Maraniss also fails to provide or reference any Columbia financial records that might have given insight into the source or sources Obama used to pay tuition.
Columbia: 'Obama’s lost years'
No less than Obama-supporting Snopes.com has admitted little is known about Obama's Columbia years.
“Even those who have studied Barack Obama’s background in detail don’t generally know much about his time at Columbia University, however, as he hasn’t revealed much about that period of his life in his public writings and statements, nor has he made his transcripts or other school records from Columbia available for public examination,” the website states.
An editorial titled “Obama’s Lost Years,” published in the Wall Street Journal Sept. 11, 2008, noted Fox News contacted some 400 students who were at Columbia from 1981 to 1983 and found no one who remembered him.
New York Times reporter Janny Scott, who later wrote a favorable biography of Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, wrote in an Oct. 30, 2007, story that Obama "declined repeated requests to talk about his New York years, release his Columbia transcript or identify even a single fellow student, co-worker, roommate or friend from those years."
“He doesn’t remember the names of a lot of people in his life,” said Ben LaBolt, a campaign spokesman, told Scott.
Scott wrote that one person who did remember Obama was Michael L. Baron, who taught a senior seminar on international politics and American policy. Baron said he was Obama’s adviser on the senior thesis for that course and gave him an A for the course. Baron later wrote Obama a recommendation for Harvard Law School.
An Associated Press story May 16, 2008, also stated the Obama campaign declined to discuss Obama's "time at Columbia and his friendships in general."
The campaign, however, listed five locations where Obama lived during a period of four years in New York City: three on Manhattan's Upper West Side and two in Brooklyn. His memoir mentions two others on Manhattan's Upper East Side, the AP noted.
After Columbia, Obama says he spent two years as a writer for a business newsletter and as a coordinator at City College in Harlem for an environmental and consumer advocacy group. In 1985, he left for Chicago.