Karin Agness

One of the first attacks launched at Governor Sarah Palin when she was announced as Senator John McCain’s running mate was that she was not smart enough to be one step away from the presidency. Why? Because she doesn’t have an Ivy League education. Rather than criticizing her position on taxes, energy independence or the War in Iraq, college students in particular focus on her University of Idaho degree. It has become a rallying cry for my fellow students at schools ranked better than the University of Idaho and flung as an insult into heated debates.

These same students conveniently forget that after graduating from the University of Delaware, Senator Joe Biden went on to graduate 76th in a class of 85 from Syracuse University College of Law where he infamously plagiarized a law review article for one of his papers. They also forget that Senator Barack Obama attended Occidental College in Los Angeles before Columbia University.

Too many people are resorting to this elementary school tactic of calling someone stupid as a trump card during election discussions. After listening to a fellow student mock Gov. Palin’s education, I decided to test her theory using the presidency, since that is the position for which these students claim she is not qualified.

Is a degree from a top American college a prerequisite to becoming a successful president?

No. Abraham Lincoln led our country through one of its most tumultuous times and is admired as one of our best presidents. He did not even go to college. He is not alone. Eight American presidents did not earn a college degree, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland and Harry Truman. Almost 20% of our presidents have not graduated from college.

One of our best presidents of the 20th century graduated from a small school in Illinois, Eureka College, which most Americans probably have never heard of. Eureka College, which currently has an enrollment of about 600 students, did not make the Princeton Review’s 2009 Best 368 Colleges.

Furthermore, even some presidents who have earned degrees from top schools have been criticized as being among the worst presidents in American history.

Many liberals decry George W. Bush as the worst president in the last 50 years. Where did he earn his undergraduate degree? Yale. On the flip side, many conservatives hold a similarly negative view of Jimmy Carter. Where did he graduate? The U.S. Naval Academy. Yale and the U.S. Naval Academy are two of the top institutions of higher learning in the United States.

Karin Agness

Karin Agness is President of the Network of Enlightened Women.
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