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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Smith at Harvard -- 5% or 10%?

We've raised quite a few questions about the self-made legend of Portland mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith. One aspect of his story is that he graduated in the top 5% of his class at Harvard Law School. We're wondering how he could make that claim. Granted, he graduated magna cum laude, which in 1999 (Smith's graduation year), meant the top 10% of the class. (In contrast, back in the days when Barack Obama graduated, far more than 10% of the grads got the magna honor.)

But as best we can tell, Harvard Law never did publish a class rank for its students in those days, and so how can Smith make a claim that he was in the top 5% when he graduated? Is this an embellishment? Ten percent is genuinely impressive -- why try to top it if your better story can't be proven?

Comments (30)

That's a little cheesy, but it's in a much different league than debating whether an intern is 17 or 18, whether the acts were on public property, etc. It's also a far cry from another local politician's claim he'd graduated from Columbia University, when he'd really graduated from some mail order "university." Jeff is clearly versed in politician puffery, however.

It goes beyond puffery. There's something false or misleading about almost everything this guy says about himself. Too reminiscent of Sam Adams.

Betcha verifying this will be easier than do the same to any Obama academic record.

Edolphus Towns of New York’s 10th District is bringing out legislation (Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2011) to keep O's personal and presidential documents permanently secret.

Bush tried the same thing. But this is the most open and transparent admin in history.

Harvard Law will verify whether someone graduated, what year, and whether it was with or without graduation honors. Just call the registrar's office.

The easiest answer to this question could be that he asked the registrar for his ranking when he graduated, and they told him. The easiest way for him to clear it up would be to request verification of this from the law school.

Calling the registrar's office is so 20th century. Now the universities use the "National Student Clearinghouse." Pay them ~$15 and get the verification of degree.

I did this for Sam Adams because it wondered if he really got his bachelor's degree in 2002. And, yes he did, on March 23, 2002, with a BA in political science. No GPA, though.

The easiest answer to this question could be that he asked the registrar for his ranking when he graduated, and they told him. The easiest way for him to clear it up would be to request verification of this from the law school.

No, you're missing the point. Harvard Law did not, and does not, publish class rank. Not to the student, not to anyone. All you can tell when you graduate is what type of honors, if any, you received. In Smith's case, that's top 10%, not 5%. I have recently verified all of this with officials at Harvard.

From what I can tell WikiPedia got the top 5% information from a Portland Tribune article from 2009:

Anybody want to contact the article author and see if he remembers where that information came from? ;)

Ah, got it, Jack. I figured that what they publish and what they tell you could be different things.

As you say, graduating from Harvard Law is impressive. Graduating with honors is even more impressive. No reason to gild the lily and inflate something that is already pretty impressive.

My point is just that Smith is not the first politician who exaggerates his own accomplishments and minimizes his failings. After Sam, I'd have a hard time seeing someone else with such attributes take over the office--but at least Smith has smarts. Sam's greatest accomplishment was being consigliere to the Voldemort of City Hall--essentially a Machiavellian with a nice smile and trendy glasses. I'd rather not see Smith in office, but he offers more than Sam did even in his pre-scandal days.

This is Sam 2.0, run away Portland. Anyone who lies for the sake of lying (and as others have said, top 10% at HLS is impressive enough to stand on its own) and can't answer simple questions such as why didn't you show up to court/how do you make a living without a bunch of fluffy half answers should not be mayor.

Wes Cooley for Mayor!

Darn it! There goes that dang ADHD thing again. I'm sure he "forgot" that Magnas graduate in the top 10% as opposed to the top 5%. Just a bunch of silly numbers after all.

I wouldn't call Streetcar Smith "Sam 2.0."

That implies refinements and improvements on the original.

This is more like a pirated, knockoff version of Classic Sam that was cranked out cheaply in some offshore software sweatshop with zero quality control and marketed as "just as good, for a lot less" even though it's hard to install and produces a vast assortment of glitches, hiccups and system crashes while exacerbating whatever viruses and worms that were running amok to begin with. Downloading triggers several prompts asking "Do you really want to do this?"

And bear in mind that Classic Sam was a product that should have been recalled. A couple of times.

No, Smith would be Classic Sam without the simulated competence feature, but including the dysfunctional interface in which it runs its applications regardless of user commands.

No idea about Harvard, but every law school graduate I know in the last decade or so was told their class rank by number. They are then conferred the appropriate honor at graduation, but are still told by the school what their rank was by number.

The higher his rank, the higher his fall.

He's got different stories about how he came to be diagnosed with ADHD too.

In the Trib article Michael has linked to above, they quote his father as saying that during the "time out" from school he forced upon his son (what's THAT all about anyway?), Jefferson worked with inner-city youth in D.C.

From the article: While there, recalled his father, one of the youths was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. “He [Jefferson] said, ‘Gee, that sounds like me.’”

In the latest little puff-piece from WW, when asked when his diagnosis for ADHD occurred, Jefferson said:

I didn’t know it then, but apparently, the first time when I was 8 years old. The second time when I was 20. I met a friend who thought I probably was, and I didn’t believe him, but I got checked out.

Again, not that big a deal all on its own. Who really cares when or how he came about his diagnosis (though I do wonder why it's been made a point each time someone does a piece on him). But this guy seems incapable of sticking to a story - at least when it comes to his background. What gives? Is he a really bad liar with insecurity issues who therefore needs to embellish? Or is he trying to hide something?

Interesting. At the end of my first year of law school, I knew exactly how I was ranked against the rest of the first year class. And I had a friend at Harvard that year (70s) who in fact got the same info.

Smith sounds like a young golfer I know. He's a good golfer with all kinds of stories on which PGA circuit he'll be playing. He's done well in the southern Calif/AZ circuit, hoping to crack the big time. But then time goes by and his stories change, his elaborations become bigger, and his excuses keep piling up. It's been three years and he's still waiting for the big break. From the first time meeting him you sense that he's a nice guy, full of vinegar, but something is missing. Like even telling the truth. But, gee, he's a nice guy.

In law school pretty much everyone who wanted to land a job made a huge deal out of their class rank because prospective employers made a huge deal out of class rank. I don't know how it works now days, but 20 years ago, many firms specifically stated that you had to be in the top "x" percent of your class to get an interview, for employment both as a summer intern and as an associate. As a general rule, the more the job paid, the more selective the employer. My class rank was always on my transcript from the beginning. I didn't go to Harvard, so I have no idea how it works there. It is possible that they don't rank because employers flock to hire their graduates regardless of the absence of ranking. I imagine prospective employers get a general idea of how a Harvard student stands in their class based on grades/g.p.a., and they hire on that basis if they care about that kind of thing.

Voters don't really care, do they? Top 5% or Top 10%. So what.

Many voters don't like candidates who pad their resumes.

Usual Kevin, Harvard is so good that it hasn't ranked its students in many decades, if ever. Indeed, nowadays it doesn't even have grades -- like Yale and Stanford, it's essentially an honors-pass-fail system. Employers don't get to know much about how the students stack up within the class. The top-ranked schools can get away with that.

If they don't have grades how can you be in the top 10%. (How do they figure the ranking for that?)

Back when Smith was at Harvard, they had real grades. Harvard switched to honors-pass-fail just a few years ago; Yale has been that way since at least the '70s.

No idea about Harvard

That's right, you have no idea. For the umpteenth time, Harvard does not rank students, except to determine graduation honors. Class rank is not communicated to anyone, including the students.

When I was grading at Stanford, they had dumped pass-fail. Did they reinstate it after the early '70s?

Maybe is wasn't Harvard, but instead

I had the opportunity to interview Smith for my thesis and saw firsthand his certificate stating he graduated magna cum laude. It could of been counterfeited I suppose, but I doubt it.

This isn't going to lead to any revelations. If you are looking for dirt on Smith I would look at something else.

Jenny, perhaps when they were supervising your thesis, they might have taught you to read. As the post says, I acknowledge that he graduated magna cum laude. I even called Harvard and checked. But the entire point of the post, which you seem to be missing, is that magna means 10%, not 5%, and there's no other ranking done at Harvard.


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