Did Obama Attend College/Law School as a Foreign Student?

Special Report

Did Barack Obama Attend College as a Foreign Student?

Getting To The Wayne Allyn Root of the Issue

Who is Wayne Allyn Root? — Everyone

Here at TheFogbow.com we’ve spent 4 years following the Birther movement and debunking lies, rumors, misunderstandings, and idiocies of the eligibility deniers. Sometimes, long-debunked zombies reanimate and try for another chance. Here’s one such example.

Wayne Allyn Root, Columbia University ’83 and 2008 Libertarian candidate for Vice President , burst into the media spotlight in September 2008 claiming that no one knew Barack Obama when they were both at Columbia University. (Interview in the September 5, 2008 issue of Reason, Article here.) TheFogbow.com debunked that in our Special Report: People Remember Obama at Columbia. Others also debunked that here: Snopes, Politifact, and Factcheck.com.

This time around, in his article in Glenn Beck’s website The Blaze (August 6, 2012: article here), Root has added a twist: Obama attended Columbia as a foreign student who received foreign aid! (Seems he finally read the April 1, 2009 AP Spoof, debunked here, and here, and here.)

Root’s Claims, in his own words, with commentary
Additional Considerations
The Facts of Foreign Student Aid
FACT: Barack Obama had US student loans.
FACT: Barack Obama had no need to apply for foreign student aid.
FACT: Barack Obama wasn’t eligible to attend to any college in the US as a foreign student because he was a US citizen.
FACT: Barack Obama wasn’t eligible for US aid as a foreign student because he was a US citizen.
FACT: Barack Obama wasn’t eligible for Indonesian or Kenyan aid as a foreign student because he was a US citizen.

Where did this Birther meme come from?


by Wayne Allyn Root, The Blaze (August 6, 2012)

Claim: I am President Obama’s classmate at Columbia University, Class of ’83.

TRUE. Root did graduate from Columbia, Class of ’83. From Columbia College Today, July 2004:

Wayne Allyn Root ’83, whose success story reads like a paean to PR says, “If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, there’s no point.”

Although Root and Obama were both in the class of 1983, it’s unclear how much time Root and Obama actually spent on campus at the same time. The Columbia College 1983 Class Day program show “Wayne Alan Root” (sic) as having his degree conferred on January 26, 1983. Was Root actually at Columbia for the Spring 1983 semester?

Claim: We were both (according to Obama) Pre-Law and Political Science majors.

MIXED: Obama was a Political Science major with a concentration in International Relations. However, according to Root’s profile published in the Columbia Today article: “At Columbia, Root – spurred by paternal pressure to become involved in politics or law – took pre-law courses and majored in political science…”

Claim: And I thought I knew most everyone at Columbia. I certainly thought I’d heard of all of my fellow Political Science majors. But not Obama…

UNKNOWN: Only Root can know what he thought at the time, or whether he had ever heard of Obama.

Claim: … (or as he was known then- Barry Soetoro).

FALSE: Obama attended Columbia University under his given name, Barack Hussien Obama, not as “Barry Soetoro,” as reflected in both at least two Columbia Student Directories (below) and the 1983 Columbia Graduation Program (below). Additionally, he authored the lead essay published in the weekly newsletter on March 10, 1983 – as “Barack Obama.”

Student directory 1

Columbia Directory 2

Graduation programColumbia University Class of 1983 Graduation Program

From Breitbart.com: “The image [to the left] –never before released–is from public records at Columbia University that prove that Obama did, in fact, graduate in 1983 from the Ivy League school. Contrary to some conspiracy theories, Obama was a student within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences–not the less selective, “nontraditional” Columbia University School of General Studies (which only merged with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 1990).”

Some birthers have questioned why Obama is listed at the end. It’s alphabetical by last name name and, as such, his name is the last name in the portion of the list shown in the photograph. It also shows that he didn’t attend under the name “Barry Soetoro”.

Claim: I never met him. Never saw him. Never even heard of him. And none of the classmates that I knew at Columbia have ever met him, saw him, or heard of him.

Implausible. This can only be true if neither Root nor his classmates ever used the Student Directories (in which his name appeared), or read the Sundial, the university’s weekly newsletter (in which Obama’s essay was published in the spring of 1983) … or read their own 1983 Graduation Program or Class Day Program (in which his name appeared).

FALSE: Disputed. Jim Davidson, a fellow student in 1983, directly refutes Root’s claim in the comments section at The Agitator.

#73 | Jim Davidson | May 17th, 2010 at 12:45 pm: “Well, now we have another problem. You see, I met Wayne Root in Topeka, Kansas (at the zoo) for the Kansas state Libertarian Party convention. And I informed him that I met Barack Obama at Columbia University when we were both students there in Spring 1983. So Wayne is lying when he asserts, “No one I know from Columbia University has ever met or heard of a classmate named Barack Obama or Barry Sotero.”

“He’s lying because he knows that I met Barack Obama and he’s lying because I told Wayne about it. Since May 2008 Wayne has also known that I was a student at Columbia University 1981-1985. …

“If Wayne Root is willing to lie about something as mundane as whether he ever met someone from Columbia who met Barack, what else is he willing to lie about?”

Query: If, as Root says, neither he nor any of his (white) classmates had ever heard of Obama while at Columbia, how could he possibly know the name by which Obama “was known” at the time as he claims?

In 2007, Root had a different opinion. From a radio interview with Glenn Beck (March 7, 2008):
“We were both political science majors at the same college, Columbia University, graduated in the class of ’83. So I guarantee you we were sitting in the same classes together but I did not know him. It’s probably a graduating class of 600 or 700. So it’s very possible to be in the same class and not know a person. I didn’t know everyone in the whole class.”

As for why Root may have never met Obama –one potential explanation may be, in Root’s own words: (From Reason, September 5, 2008):

Root: All my buddies are white, what can I tell you! They don’t know him, nobody’s ever seen him, I don’t know what to tell you.

Other guy: That’s the era.

Root: That’s the era. I mean, when I went to Columbia, the black kids were all at like tables going “Black Power!” We used to walk by and go, “What the hell are they talking about.” And they didn’t associate with us and we didn’t associate with them. So if you track down a couple of black students, they’ll probably know him. But nobody white’s ever heard of this guy. It’s quite amazing. Nobody remembers him. They don’t remember him sitting in class.

Of course, Root’s apparent claim that white classmates had never heard of or remember Obama has been thoroughly debunked. See TheFogbow.com Special Report: People Remember Obama. In fact, Phil Boerner ’83, Obama’s roommate in 1983, was white.

Claim: But don’t take my word for it. The Wall Street Journal reported in 2008 that Fox News randomly called 400 of our Columbia classmates and never found one who had ever met Obama.

FALSE: The actual news report that the WSJ and Fox News referred to was a story by AP reporter Adam Goldman. The May 15, 2008 article Goldman wrote is here. Fox News interviewed Goldman here (Video, at 6:38). Root is incorrect that Fox News randomly called 400 Columbia classmates. According to Goldman, “We ended up speaking to more than 400 people who had graduated that year with Barack, they knew George Stephanopoulos [who was a sports broadcaster for the campus radio station and salutatorian for his graduating class] who had graduated the year before, but not Barack.” As Goldman had also interviewed several people who DID know Obama for his AP story, Goldman’s point wasn’t that no one knew Obama, but that Obama wasn’t widely remembered for his time in the Columbia community.

Claim: The first question I’d ask is, if you had great grades, why would you seal your records?

FALSE IMPLICATION: Obama’s grades are not sealed. “Record sealing is the practice of sealing or, in some cases, destroying court records that would otherwise be publicly accessible as publicrecords. … Generally, record sealing can be defined as the process of removing from general review the records pertaining to a court case.” As far as we can ascertain, “… no Obama record that was public in 2007 became “sealed” or private as the result of any court action. That is, Obama didn’t spend any money to seal records.”

“Sealing” academic records wouldn’t make public records private, as academic records are already protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a 1974 law that says “schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student’s education record.” No one can get Wayne Allyn Root’s grades without his permission, and no one can get Barack Obama’s.

Claim: So let’s assume Obama got poor grades.

INVALID ASSUMPTION: As no other presidential candidate has ever voluntarily released school records while running for office, one reason Obama hasn’t released his is that he’s sticking with tradition. Usually such documents appear in the presidential libraries long after their terms are up. Candidates whose transcripts were made public never authorized their release — they were “obtained” by less-than-legal means.

We also know that Obama received “good grades” in at least some classes. For example, he received an A in a senior seminar on international politics and American policy. And his teacher was so impressed, he later wrote Obama a recommendation for Harvard Law School.

Claim: Secondly, if he had poor grades at Occidental, how did he get admitted to an Ivy League university in the first place? And if his grades at Columbia were awful, how’d he ever get into Harvard Law School? So again those grades must have been great, right?

Obama and people who knew him at Columbia and Occidental uniformly say that while he was a party boy at Oxy, he knuckled down and studied at Columbia. He really shone by the time he entered HLS.

Obama attended Occidental College for two years then transferred to Columbia University. Transfer students to Columbia University were expected to have at least a 3.5 GPA.

Students at Columbia have to spend more than two years at Columbia to qualify for Latin Honors. Obama could have gotten straight A’s at Occidental and Columbia and still wouldn’t have graduated with honors. He was ineligible as he hadn’t spent enough time resident at Columbia. (Most colleges have similar policies. They restrict the numbers of Honors graduates to maintain the quality of Honors degrees.)

Harvard Law School looks at much more than grades when considering applicants. According to Josh Rubenstein, Assistant Dean of Admissions, in an interview for TopLawSchools.com:

JR: Our Admissions Committee looks primarily for two things – the ability to thrive academically and the capability and desire to have an impact in a chosen field. We really want people who are going to become leaders in their fields and who are going to generate new and innovative ways to solve problems.

It’s important to remember that GPA and LSAT are just two of many components in the admissions process. While we are fortunate to have the luxury to pick from among many candidates with strong academic credentials, other application factors play a HUGE role in our decision-making process.

Each year, many candidates with “lower” GPA and LSAT scores are offered admission and many candidates with near perfect numbers don’t receive a spot in our class – remember, we’re not only looking for academic superstars, we are also looking for students who are driven to and capable of making an impact. An impressive GPA and LSAT score do not necessarily indicate the presence of the drive, motivation, and determination necessary to achieve success. The non-quantitative components of the application, primarily the resume and personal statement, are thus an extremely important opportunity to highlight these other critical traits. Similarly, letters of recommendation are a great window into how your words translate into action and how you are perceived by people who interact with you on a day-to-day basis.

TLS: Can you give any advice to older/non-traditional applicants about what you like seeing in an application?

JR: First, I’d note that older applicants are no longer “non-traditional,” at least at Harvard. Over half of this year’s entering class has taken at least two years to work or advance their studies before attending law school. Nearly three quarters of the class has taken at least a year. In general this experience provides a significant advantage to applicants as they can both showcase their leadership skills and demonstrate their ability to contribute to the Harvard community in a unique way.

TLS: What kinds of things can “sink” candidates with both high GPAs and LSATs, causing them to be rejected at Harvard?

JR: This is a great question, because high GPAs and LSATs, while nice, really only get you so far.

One of the most common mistakes I see is where an applicant thinks their stellar scores and grades will guarantee admission and then fails to put together a compelling and cohesive application. Regardless of your numerical credentials, if a reader doesn’t walk away from reading your application with a clear understanding of who you are and why law school makes sense for you, it’s unlikely you will be admitted.

TLS: Is there any way for an applicant to overcome a low GPA and/or LSAT by writing addenda explaining extenuating circumstances? What kinds of situations would you say merit explanation?

JR: Absolutely – this type of thing happens all of the time.

In my mind, the key is to explain not only what happened, but also why it happened. If you had a rough start to college, tell us why and what has changed since then. If your grades are great but you struggled with the LSAT, talk us through what the issue is and what you’ve done to try to overcome it.

Barack Obama was the first Executive Director of the Developing Communities Project in Chicago, IL. Obviously Harvard considered that achievement and Obama’s other qualifications merited an admissions slot.

Claim: So why spend millions to keep them sealed?

FALSE: Barack Obama hasn’t sealed his academic records, and he hasn’t paid any millions to keep them sealed. Here’s an extensive article debunking this rumor at ObamaConspiracy.org.

Claim: Third, how did Obama pay for all these fancy schools without coming from a wealthy background?

Most students get some level of student aid. In 1979, Occidental’s cost (tuition, room & board, and fees) was about $7,000 per year. For students such as Obama, from a single-parent household of 3 with total assets under $30,000 ($94,000 in 2012 dollars) and income below $8,000 ($25,000 in 2012 dollars), the expected family contribution would be $0. (Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, October 1982).

Between the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant (up to $1,600 per year), Guaranteed Student Loan ($2,500 per year), Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants ($1,500 per year from the federal program plus $1,500 from the school), and scholarships, Obama could easily have afforded even an expensive school such as Occidental or Columbia. (Ebony March, 1979)

Claim: If he had student loans or scholarships, would he not have to maintain good grades?

“For Occidental students to maintain eligibility for financial aid, applicants are required to make satisfactory academic progress toward their degree. The Satisfactory Academic Progress Policy (SAP) also requires students to complete a certain number of units and maintain a certain grade point average after each year of college attendance.” At Occidental, that requires the student to maintain a GPA of 2.0. Transfer students to Columbia University were expected to have at least a 3.5 GPA. As Obama did successfully transfer to Columbia, his GPA was more than adequate to maintain his student aid.

Claim: Here’s my gut belief: Obama got a leg up by being admitted to both Occidental and Columbia as a foreign exchange student.

Root’s gut has failed him. Obama was not eligible to be a foreign exchange student. (MUCH more on this below.)

Claim: He was raised as a young boy in Indonesia.

FALSE: Barack Obama only spent 4 years of his childhood living in Indonesia, from October 1967 through October 1971 (Ages 6 to 10). He moved there with his mother, after her new husband, Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian student who had come to Hawaii to study, returned to his home country. The remainder of his childhood was spent in Hawaii.

Claim: But did his mother ever change him back to a U.S. citizen?

FALSE IMPLICATION: Barack Obama never lost his US citizenship, so there was no need to “change him back.” Under US law, Obama could not possibly have lost his US citizenship as a minor, regardless of any actions his mother may or may not have taken. See our FAQ: Bither Claims Debunked: Adopted in Indonesia.

Claim: When he returned to live with his grandparents in Hawaii or as he neared college-age preparing to apply to schools, did he ever change his citizenship back? I’m betting not.

FALSE IMPLICATION. As noted above, Barack Obama never lost his US citizenship, so there was no need to “change his citizenship back.” Barack Obama attended The Punahou School, a private primary and secondary school in Honolulu, Hawaii, from 1972 to 1979. He would have had the same issues with visas and student aid if he weren’t a US citizen.

Additional considerations:

In 1983, Columbia University had approximately 6,500 undergraduate students in a total enrollment of about 22,500 students. It is an urban campus. Unless Root and Obama had a class or club together, they may never have come across each other.

Columbia University didn’t allow transfer students to live on campus. Barack Obama lived in several off-campus apartments during his time at Columbia. They were unlikely to run across each other in the dorm areas or dining halls.
Obama spent much of his downtime playing basketball. Root hasn’t mentioned that he played, so they were unlikely to run across each other in that venue.

Columbia students hung out at different locations off campus. Obama’s hangouts were Butler Library and Tom’s Diner with his small circle of friends. Root did not.

Root began at Columbia two years before Obama transferred there. By Junior Year, most college students have established a core group of friends. In Root’s case, as he notes, that was white Republican conservative students. In Obama’s case, that was friends from Occidental and some international students.

The 2 years Root and Obama overlap are when majors take advanced courses. For example, Obama took a seminar (2 semester class) on international politics and American policy, a class on Sociology, “Modern Political Movements”, and “The Novel and Ideology.” Those seem unlikely choices for a conservative Republican/Libertarian. (See here for what classmates and professors remember about Obama.)

Root has remained active with the Columbia Alumni Association. Obama has not.

Root’s Motivation?

Journalist Dave Weigel wrote a profile of Root, who he called “Just Another Hustler in the Hustler Kingdom” in the June 26, 2008 issue of Reason:

Wayne Allyn Root is a failure. He’ll tell you as much. He’s “the world’s most successful failure,” a man who stumbled from job to job, succeeding at none of them, before he found the one that made him a millionaire. He used to be a Republican, then decided to become the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee. When he fell short, he threw his votes to Bob Barr and became the ex-congressman’s running mate. What Wayne Root wants, Wayne Root gets. Sort of. …

As Root tells it, he tried, and failed, at thirteen different careers. He was rejected from law school. He failed as a realtor four different times, blowing tens of thousands of dollars on brochures for properties no one bought. He managed a Manhattan restaurant, then “got bored and quit.” He became an entertainment agent, signing one client, and snagging him one job—in six months. His biggest innovation was “Ivy League Home Cleaners,” a maid service staffed with college graduates, none of whom, quite understandably, wanted to become maids.”

From an interview in the September 5, 2008 issue of Reason:

Root is no fan of the Democratic nominee: “A vote for Obama is four years of Karl Marx, and no one should be happy about that,” he told us and a few genial young libertarian activists over cocktails. “He’s a communist! I don’t care what anybody says. The guy’s a communist…. And his mother was a card-carrying communist, and he says she’s the most important person in his entire life; he learned everything from her.

” …and he got in based on the color of his skin. Does anyone doubt that possibly Barack could have gotten into Harvard with a C average because he’s black, where as I, white, couldn’t get into the same school with a B-plus, A-minus average?

“… I don’t know the answer but I’m pretty sure I know the answer. He had a lower average than me and he got into Harvard and I didn’t. And so my answer is, has America really been unfair to minorities? No it hasn’t. It was unfair to me. A white butcher’s kid, whose father had no money, but nobody gave me a break. And do I have a chip on my shoulder? You’re damn right I do. And I represent millions and millions of poor people in this country who weren’t lucky enough to be poor and black, they were unlucky enough to be poor and white, and they can’t get into Harvard.

The Facts of Foreign Aid

FACT: Barack Obama had US student loans.

In August 2010, a jury in Iowa city found Sandra Teague guilty of accessing then-Senator Barack Obama’s student loan records on August 27, 2008. Teague worked with the National Student Loan Data System as a contractor for Vangent, Inc. Teague was the only one of nine charged in the breach of privacy to go on trial. The other eight pleaded guilty to the charges. The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), August 10, 2010. Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa), December 14, 2010.

“The activities of Teague and Lage and seven other defendants came to light when the United States Department of Education, Office of Inspector General (DOE-OIG), began an investigation to determine if its employees or those of its contractors had inappropriately accessed the student loan information of certain celebrities or well-known political and sports figures. DOE-OIG determined that on a number of occasions, unauthorized access to the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) database had originated with Vangent Corporation in Coralville, Iowa. Vangent, a DOE contractor, assisted with student loan inquiries via their call center and engaged in debt collection.

“As a result, nine former employees of Vangent were charged with exceeding authorized computer access. All nine accessed President Obama’s student loan information while he was a candidate for the presidency, President-Elect, or President of the United States. With the exception of Teague, all of the defendant entered guilty pleas.

“This investigation was conducted by the United States Department of Education, Office of Inspector General, and was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa.” (Investigation Report, USDOE, OIG)

Barack Obama had to have US student loans or else he wouldn’t have been in the NSLDS. Eight people pleaded guilty and one person was convicted of accessing those records. As only US citizens or permanent residents are eligible for US student loans, Barack Obama could not have attended college as a foreign student.

FACT: Barack Obama had no need to apply for foreign student aid.

As above, most students get some level of student aid. In 1979, Occidental’s cost (tuition, room & board, and fees) was about $7,000 per year. For students such as Obama, from a single-parent household of 3 with under assets $30,000 ($94,000 in 2012 dollars) and income below $8,000 ($25,000 in 2012 dollars), the expected family contribution would be $0. (Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, October 1982).

Between the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant (up to $1,600 per year), Guaranteed Student Loan ($2,500 per year), Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants ($1,500 per year from the federal program plus $1,500 from the school), and scholarships, Obama could easily have afforded even an expensive school such as Occidental or Columbia. (Ebony March, 1979)

QED, Barack Obama had no need to attend a US college as a foreign student.

FACT: Barack Obama wasn’t eligible to attend any college in the US as a foreign student because he was a US citizen.

According to the US Code 8 USC § 1101, a foreign student is:
(a)(15)(F)(i) an alien having a residence in a foreign country which he has no intention of abandoning, who is a bona fide student qualified to pursue a full course of study and who seeks to enter the United States temporarily and solely for the purpose of pursuing such a course of study consistent with section 1184(l) [1]of this title at an established college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in an accredited language training program in the United States…
To be a foreign student in the US, Obama would have needed the following:

a Form IAP-66 (Exchange Visitor Certificate of Eligibility, for institution to institution programs) or a Form I-20 (Foreign Student Certificate of Eligibility) from the college he would be attending (the INS did not allow transfers from one institution to another);
a letter outlining the financial support he would be receiving;
a passport from the foreign country he was claiming;
evidence of residency in the foreign country that he lived at and would return to;
evidence of educational background including diploma and transcripts;
evidence of financial support sufficient to demonstrate that he would not need to seek unauthorized employment in the United States (such as an affidavit of support INS Form I-34); and
an interview with a US consular officer to demonstrate sincerity in going to the US to study and to DEPART the US to the originating country after his study ended. (Source: Bound for the United States: an introduction to U.S. college and university life; Linda A. Reed et. al., National Association for Foreign Affairs, 1982. 66 pages)

All the above would be needed to acquire a J-1 visa that would allow him to remain in the US for the duration of his program of study. A US citizen, US-dual citizen, or a US permanent resident is not eligible to get a US visa.

Barack Obama never lost his US citizenship. QED, as a US citizen he was not eligible to attend college as a foreign student.

FACT: Barack Obama wasn’t eligible for US aid as a foreign student because he was a US citizen.

1. The primary federal student aid program for foreign students studying in the US is the Fulbright Program administered by the US Department of State.

The Fulbright Foreign Student Program enables graduate students, young professionals, and artists from abroad to research and study in the United States for one year or longer at U.S. universities or other appropriate institutions.
Barack Obama was not eligible for this program as an undergraduate student at Occidental College and Columbia University.

2. Other federal student aid programs such the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program (founded in 1992) didn’t exist when Obama attended undergraduate college in 1979-1983.

Barack Obama was not eligible for any of the US foreign student aid programs. QED, he could not have attended a US college with US foreign student aid.

FACT: Barack Obama wasn’t eligible for Indonesian or Kenyan aid as a foreign student because he was a US citizen.

Countries such as Indonesia and Kenya do not give out aid to every student who applies.
When aid is available, it is reserved exclusively for promising students who will study abroad then return to the country, often for a specified number of years.
Obama attended a US school from 1971 to 1979. He spoke no Swahili and had only a young child’s knowlege of Indonesian. He lacked a resident’s knowledge of those countries. He wasn’t a citizen of either country and had a US passport. He would be unable to get a US J-1 visa for US study.

QED, neither Indonesia nor Kenya would have considered Obama for their limited aid dollars.

Where did this Birther meme come from?

The first reference we have found to the claim Barack Obama attended college as a foreign student is from a September 29, 2008 comment on the Citizen Well’s blog.

“Another matter is “Why” are his College Record’s being held by a Private Party who will not release them. Could it be that he recieved scholarship grant’s as a Foreign Student…” (Spelling errors from the original.)

Prior to that entry there had been plenty of speculation on Birther sites that Obama was a Kenya citizen, or an Indonesian citizen or both — but none that he actually attended college as a foreign student. Dan Smith, the poster of this comment, at one time had planned an eligibility lawsuit against Obama that was never filed.

The meme hit the Birther world with the seminal Birther lawsuit Berg v Obama.

As with most Birther memes, the claim that Barack Obama attended college as a foreign student exploded from Berg v Obama, the first Obama eligibility lawsuit. This suit was filed by Attorney Philp J. Berg in Federal District Court in Pennsylvania in August, 2008.

From the First Amended Complaint filed on October 6, 2008:

“Plaintiff is informed, believes and thereon alleges Obama stated his citizenship as Kenyan on his College Admission forms to Occidental College, Columbia University and Harvard Law School.”

That’s it. Nothing about foreign student aid, nothing about why Obama would apply as non-US citizen, nothing about applying to college as an Indonesian citizen, nothing about why Berg believes this. This claim appears along with many other Birther memes that have been proven false, such as the Pakistan Travel Ban in 1981, Obama lied on his Illinois Bar application, Obama is not a “natural born” citizen, Obama lost his citizenship when he was adopted in Indonesia, his Grandmother claims she was present at his birth in Kenya, and many more.

Beginning in January 2009, rumors again swirled in Birtherstan. Evidence that Obama had attended college in California as Barry Soetoro and proof could be found in the CA Assembly Daily Journal! As proof, these images were posted:

Page 1

Page 2

But as Doctor Conspiracy pointed out on April 1, 2009 there were a few problems with this “proof”. First, the student’s name was Soetoro Moestabjab, not Barry Soetoro. Second, the student was from El Camino High School in California, not Occidental College in California. Third, the scholarship was from the American Field Service, an organization that links high school students in other countries with host families in the US, it does not provide scholarships to college students. But most importantly, the date of the journal was March 26, 1963. Not only couldn’t this Soetoro be the 16 month old Barack Obama, it also couldn’t be his future stepfather Lolo Soetoro, who was 28 in 1963. Once again, Birthers had researched via Google and failed to carefully examine the results.


The Foreign Student meme hit the mainstream in late April 2009 with a viral email that began:


April 1, 2009

AP- WASHINGTON D.C. – In a move certain to fuel the debate over Obama’s qualifications for the presidency, the group “Americans for Freedom of Information” has released copies of President Obama’s college transcripts from Occidental College. Released today, the transcript indicates that Obama, under the name Barry Soetoro, received financial aid as a foreign student from Indonesia as an undergraduate at the school. The transcript was released by Occidental College in compliance with a court order in a suit brought by the group in the Superior Court of California. The transcript shows that Obama (Soetoro) applied for financial aid and was awarded a fellowship for foreign students from the Fulbright Foundation Scholarship program. To qualify, for the scholarship, a student must claim foreign citizenship. This document would seem to provide the smoking gun that many of Obama’s detractors have been seeking. … (Full email here.)

Thorough debunkings were quickly posted at Factcheck.org, Snopes.com, mediamatters.com, TruthOrFiction.com, About.com Urban Legends, irregulartimes.com, and other debunking websites — but it was too late. The spoof had been and continues to be posted on tens of thousands of web sites, chats, and boards with breathless and hopeful credulity. This single email appears to be how the vast majority of believers “learned” that Barack Obama was a foreign student and recieved a Fulbright scholarship to study at Occidental college.

A spoof-of-a-spoof site was quickly set up under the name “Americans for Freedom of Information,” the non-existant organization named in the email, which continues to report on people and organizations who fall for the spoof three years later.


Barack Obama was born a US citizen in Honolulu Hawaii. He attended school in Jarkarta, Indonesia for 4 years, then returned to Hawaii and attended The Punahou School from grades 5-12. He attended Occidental College in Los Angeles, California on a scholarship for two years, then transferred to Columbia University in New York City for two years before graduating in 1983 with a BA in Political Science and a concentration in International Relations. The only years he was a foreign student and the only years he was known as Barry Soetoro were his 4 years in Indonesia.

The Birther meme that Barack Obama applied and/or attended college as a foreign student is just rumor built on nothing.

Falsehoods Unchallenged Only Fester and Grow