Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Sarah Palin's Crazy College Daze - A chronology of her College/University years

Guest post by Idaho Vandal

Sarah Palin’s college career is a puzzle for several reasons. Why did she keep changing schools? And what exactly was her major? For years she claimed her degree was in journalism; now Sarah says she majored in communications. Several sources have reported that she graduated from the University of Idaho after the fall semester of 1987; others tell us her last semester was the spring of 1987. So what do we know for certain? Here’s what I’ve been able to put together so far…

Act I:

Hawaii, fall 82. Sarah began her college career in the fall of 1982, when she and three friends traveled to Hawaii. According to one of those friends, Sarah’s high school basketball teammate Kim “Tillie” Ketchem, the four Alaska girls first enrolled at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Disappointed by the constant rain, the girls almost immediately dropped out. Because they withdrew in the first few weeks, their enrollment was not permanently recorded (according to Kaylene Johnson’s biography of Sarah).

The friends then enrolled at Hawaii Pacific University, a private school that must have been easy to get into, given that the girls were accepted at such short notice. Here Sarah majored in business administration. A college spokesman named Crystale Lopez is on record as having confirmed both Sarah’s enrollment and her major (Nicholas Geranios, Seattle Times).

Only Sarah and Ketchem finished the semester. Ketchem told Sarah’s biographer, Kaylene Johnson, that both girls received “straight A's,” but in Going Rogue, Sarah implies that their academic performance was not stellar (“perpetual sunshine isn’t…conducive to serious academics…we realized we’d better transfer…so we could actually earn our degrees.” p. 42). This may be where Sarah received her "D" in economics. Sarah’s father, Chuck Heath, told reporters that Sarah left Hawaii after only one semester because the presence of so many Asians made her uncomfortable.

Act II:

North Idaho Community College, Spring and Fall 83. Sarah and Ketchem then transferred to North Idaho College, a two-year community college in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. According to NICC spokeswoman Stacy Hudson, Palin attended classes at the college during the spring semester of ‘83 and again that fall, with a major in General Studies.

In Going Rogue, Sarah simply talks about her reasons for “choosing Idaho” (The mountains! The snow!) without mentioning that she actually attended two different institutions in Idaho.

Act III:

The missing semester, spring 84. According to the various sources I have looked at, Sarah was not enrolled at any college or university for the spring semester of 1984. In Going Rogue (p. 45), Sarah says that she “sometimes had to take a semester off” to earn money for tuition. However, also according to Going Rogue, Sarah says she had just won “every segment” of the Miss Wasilla pageant the summer of 83, which she claimed paid her tuition. Again according to Going Rogue, Sarah competed in the Miss Alaska pageant in the summer of 1984 (winning an estimated $1,075 in scholarships, writes the New York Times).

Act IV:

The University of Idaho, Fall 84 and Spring 85. Sarah then enrolled at the University of Idaho, where her brother Chuck and younger sister Molly were already attending. According to Slate writer Timothy Noah, after one year at the University of Idaho, “Palin decided to take some time off,” although Noah does not provide either a reason or a reference for this “decision.”

Act V:

Mat-Su Community College, Fall of 1985. Returning to Alaska, Sarah enrolled at Mat-Su Community College for the fall of 1985. Journalist Peter Robison quotes an email from “Palin spokeswoman Maria Comella” in which Comella says, “It looks like she might have taken a few classes there [at Mat-Su].” So according to her own spokeswoman, Sarah was not enrolled as a full-time student at Mat-Su, but was only taking a “few classes.” In Going Rogue, Sarah does not mention her time at Mat-Su College.

Act VI:

University of Idaho (again), spring and fall 86, and spring 87. Palin then returned to the University of Idaho for the spring semester of 1986. According to her biographer, Johnson, Sarah went on to attend classes at the U of I during fall semester 1986 and spring semester 1987, finally graduating from Idaho in 1987. Until recently, Sarah’s Wikipedia page had her graduating after the fall semester of 1987, but it now also lists her final semester at the U of I as spring 1987.

Let’s recap, shall we?

Fall 82: Hawaii Pacific University

Spring 83: North Idaho Community College
Fall 83: North Idaho Community College

Spring 84: Out of school.

Fall 84: University of Idaho
Spring 85: University of Idaho

Fall 85: Mat-Su Community College (reportedly part-time)

Spring 86: University of Idaho
Fall 86: University of Idaho
Spring 87: University of Idaho

In other words, not counting her aborted registration at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, Sarah Palin attended four different institutions of higher learning in three different states. Only two of those institutions were four-year colleges. She also changed her major at least twice, beginning in business administration, then switching to general studies before ending up in communications/journalism (more on that later).

College credits do not transfer easily. Courses have different names at different institutions; different institutions require different core courses for graduation, and different majors have different requirements. Getting a four-year university to accept credits from a two-year college (such as Mat-Su) to satisfy upper division graduation requirements is simply impossible. Some have suggested that the University of Idaho may be in the habit of handing out their degrees on the cheap. This is not the case.

Sarah has defended her erratic college career by saying she had to work her way through school. However, students who are worried about their finances generally do not attend college in Hawaii (air fare from Alaska to Hawaii was not cheap in the 80s). Likewise, the need to work her way through college would not explain all this college-hopping, since moving schools typically only increases the number of semesters needed. Something else was obviously going on here.

When human resources personnel look at a college record like this, they say it screams undesirable characteristics such as “unstable” and “quitter.” But when a university professor looks at a college record like this, he says, “How does anyone attend less than nine full-time semesters at four different schools, two of them community colleges, change their major at least twice, and still manage to get a degree?”

The question then becomes, exactly what is Sarah’s degree?

For years, Sarah claimed she majored in journalism and minored in political science. She told the University of Idaho alumni magazine (Winter 2008) that she decided to pursue a journalism degree because it “combined her curiosity with her love of writing.” In Going Rogue, she tells us that she wanted to be a journalist as a child, and when she went off to college, “I planned on a political science minor because I loved studying U.S. history and government and knew poli sci would mesh well with a journalism major.”

Oddly for someone with such a lifelong ambition, she actually enrolled as a business major in Hawaii, then switched to general studies (typically a major for students who don’t yet know what they want to do) at North Idaho Community College. We do not know what Sarah chose as her major when she first enrolled at the U of I, but numerous articles written about Sarah at the time of the 2008 presidential campaign reported that she majored in journalism with an emphasis in broadcast news. (see for example HERE).

In a piece published by the Oregonian in August of 2008 (“University of Idaho professors remember little of Palin,” John Killer writes, “Kenton Bird, director of the U of I’s School of Journalism and Mass Media, said she didn’t write for the independent college newspaper, the Argonaut, and didn’t do any work for the university television station…while she was there.” Killer also has this quote: “ ‘I wish I could say that I knew something about her, but I just don’t,’ ” said Roy Atwood, the former director of the journalism program and the faculty member who signed her application for graduation.”

But perhaps that last sentence should actually have been written, “said Roy Atwood, the faculty member who would have signed her application for graduation if she had majored in journalism.” Because interestingly enough, Sarah now says she majored in communications, not journalism. (See for instance her recent Boise speech, “Noting her communications degree from the university of Idaho…”)

Her official record at nga.org also now says, “She received a Bachelor of Science degree in communications-journalism from the University of Idaho in 1987.”

Her Wikipedia page, which is maintained by Palin’s people, likewise now says she received a “bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in journalism.” The claim of a minor in poli sci has now been dropped.

According to their catalogue, the University of Idaho School of Journalism and Mass Marketing currently offers BA and BS degrees in advertising, broadcast and digital media, journalism, and public relations. “Communications” is not on that list. Without access to a catalogue from the mid-1980s, it is difficult to know what degrees they offered in 1987. However, something obviously happened in the past two years to cause Sarah to shift from saying she has a degree in journalism to saying she has a degree in communications. Is it perhaps because you couldn’t get a degree in journalism without working on the college paper, magazine, or TV station?

Interestingly, John Killer from the Oregonian also wrote that Sarah “spent her final semester working as an intern for the NBC affiliate KTUU in Anchorage.” Why is this so interesting? Because Sarah began her brief stint at KTUU in November or December of 1987. She worked first as an unpaid intern, then eventually did sportscasts on “a fill-in basis, mostly on weekends, for six more months.”

November 1987 was six months after Sarah claims to have grabbed her diploma and hightailed it back to Alaska and Todd. Yet on 22 January 1988, the Anchorage Daily News reported, “Sarah Heath will make her debut as a sportscaster the end of this month on KTUU, filing in for John Hernandez. Heath is a longtime resident of Alaska and a Wasilla High graduate who went to the University of Idaho."

It is important to note that the ADN lists Sarah as a “graduate” of Wasilla High but only says she “went” to the U of I. This is polite newspeak for “this person attended classes but did not actually receive a degree.” KTUU’s press release on Sarah Heath evidently did not list her as a graduate of the University of Idaho.

Since her time at KTUU, Sarah has in all likelihood never applied for a job that would require her to submit her college transcripts. We know that McCain’s vetting of Palin did not extend to an investigation of her college career, because according to Tania Thompson, spokeswoman for the University of Idaho, no one in the McCain campaign contacted the university.

Fox News and Going Rogue have both provided us with photos that purport to show a lighter-haired Sarah in cap and gown, graduating from the University of Idaho on a sunny day in May of 1987. What do these pictures prove? Not much. It's unusual that both available pictures were taken outside and show the young woman utterly alone.

As with so many aspects of Sarah Palin's life, the records regarding Sarah's college degree are oddly contradictory. Many open questions remain.

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