A new, self-published book by “pragmatic libertarian” Alan R. Lockwood claims that Barack Obama, while brilliant, may have entered Harvard Law School in the bottom 20% of his class, based on mediocre college grades–and high Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores.
Lockwood arrives at his conclusions with the help of demographic data published in 1990 by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), which administers the LSAT.
Sprinkling his observations with lighthearted humor and zany satire, Lockwood explains how he unlocked the mystery that has eluded other researchers:
Shovel ready: Author Jack Cashill predicted, “As to Obama’s LSAT scores, Jimmy Hoffa’s body will be unearthed before those are.” Time to get out the shovel because the mystery is about to be unearthed–that is, Obama’s LSAT score, not Hoffa’s body. (Original emphasis)
Ironically, data leading to Obama’s likely LSAT scores have been publicly available “for over two decades from, among other places, the Library of Congress,” Lockwood says.
According to Lockwood, LSAC data reveal that during the 1987-88 academic year, ten African-American students from Columbia University applied to law school. Only two earned LSAT scores above the 63rd percentile, and those each had scores in the 94-98th percentile–i.e. scores between 42 and 45 on the 48-point scale then in use (166 to 171 on today’s 180-point scale). The other students earned scores that would have been extremely unlikely to qualify for admission, even considering factors such as affirmative action.
Other demographic data from LSAC–including the fact that there were only two 27-year-old African-American students five years out of college that year who achieved scores in that range–further suggest that Obama’s LSAT scores were among the two from Columbia in the 94-98th percentile.
Therefore it is likely, Lockwood concludes, that Obama was admitted to Harvard with LSAT scores near the median of his class (Lockwood suggests a score of 43).
However, Lockwood argues, Obama’s grades were less competitive. Biographer David Maraniss notes that Obama claimed to be a B-plus student at Occidental College–roughly a 3.3 GPA. His GPA at Columbia was reportedly 3.7, and so his combined GPA was near 3.5. (Lockwood takes these numbers roughly as given, though he says they could be slightly inflated.)
That could put him at the bottom 20% of his law school class, 80% of whom had both a GPA above 3.5 and LSAT scores above the 95th percentile.
Obama might have been rejected “under an LSAT-GPA only system,” Lockwood argues. Yet he confirms that Obama excelled once at Harvard Law, graduating in the top 14% of his class–and famously becoming the first black president of the Harvard Law Review.
Though Lockwood suggests that affirmative action may have played a role in Obama’s admission to Harvard Law–diversity was the school’s “#1 goal” at the time, he says–Obama likely also benefited from his experience in community organizing, which could have suggested a future path in public interest law, encouraged by the school (then and now).
Obama “beat the odds,” Lockwood says, but notes that he went on to succeed. He cites Obama’s intelligence as self-evident: “Given the superstar Obama has become, if Harvard Law had rejected Obama, then the Trailblazers passing on Michael Jordan would no longer be the dumbest drafting decision in history,” Lockwood writes.
The rest of Lockwood’s book, Barack O’Liberal, is part serious research, part humor. For example, in addition to finding real clues to Obama’s education–including deductions about Obama’s likely courses at Columbia and Harvard Law– Lockwood presents fictionalized admissions essays, such as one to Columbia in which Obama describes the “Choom Gang” as an extracurricular activity and asks if the college has a bowling team.
With a smile, Lockwood may have pulled back more of the veil that shrouds Obama’s past.