But decades after Mr. Obama completed his own college course work, his academic performance is still a mystery. Before and after his election as president, Mr. Obama has refused to release his college transcripts from his days as an undergraduate and a law school student.
Most presidents’ academic records are made public by the time they reach the highest office in the land, either with their consent or by someone else digging them up.
Laurence Tribe wrote to me, "The allegation is absurd. Obama earned every one of his enormously high grades. ‘Affirmative action’ had nothing to do with his success there. He was the most impressive student and research assistant I have taught in my 40 years at Harvard."
Charles Fried, a Harvard Law Professor who served as Solicitor General during the Reagan Administration, wrote, "It’s paranoid nonsense. Grading is anonymous by a randomly generated exam number and it takes a vote of the faculty to change a grade."
Laurence Tribe, who argued on behalf of Gore before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000, taught Obama constitutional law and chose him as a research assistant. Of the thousands of students Tribe has had, he calls Obama the most impressive overall. "I've known Senators, Presidents. I've never known anyone with what seems to me more raw political talent," says Tribe. "He just seems to have the surest way of calmly reaching across what are impenetrable barriers to many people."
In 1990 Obama was the first African American to be elected president of the Harvard Law Review.
During his time at Harvard Law School in the 1980s, the student body was deeply divided. In one heated debate, Obama so adroitly summarized the various positions without tipping his own hand that by the end of the meeting, as Professor Charles Ogletree told one newspaper, "everyone was nodding, Oh, he agrees with me."
For the most part, Obama's commitment to social activism was limited to coffeehouse talk. But near the end of his time at Occidental, he got caught up in protests against apartheid in South Africa, helping plan a large campus rally demanding that the college divest investments there.
He opened the rally in a bit of street theater, he recalls in his memoir, speaking for a couple of minutes until two white students in paramilitary dress dragged him away in midsentence.
The eight dense volumes produced during his time in charge there — 2,083 pages in all — show the Review to have been a decidedly liberal institution, albeit one in transition as its focus on race and gender was contested by liberals and conservatives alike. Under his tenure, the Review published calls to expand the powers of women, African-Americans and the elderly to sue for discrimination.
The Harvard Law Review, generally considered the most prestigious in the country, elected the first black president in its 104-year history today. The job is considered the highest student position at Harvard Law School.
The new president of the Review is Barack Obama, a 28-year-old graduate of Columbia University who spent four years heading a community development program for poor blacks on Chicago's South Side before enrolling in law school.
In February 1990, Obama was elected the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review, and he graduated magna cum laude in 1991.
In his new book, "Barack Obama: The Story," David Maraniss quotes Obama as saying that his grade point average at Columbia was an impressive 3.7. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, which cannot happen with poor grades.
While living with his grandparents, Obama enrolled in the esteemed Punahou Academy, excelling in basketball and graduating with academic honors in 1979.