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No Sheepskin? No Problem.


White House Political Affairs Director Patrick Gaspard (White House photo)

Need a fancy degree to work at the White House? Not necessarily.

It's true that President Obama and his team have plenty of diplomas from elite schools. According to a study by New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, in cooperation with The Post, three-fourths of the president's senior staffers boast law degrees, MBAs or PhDs, on top of undergraduate degrees, of course.

Which makes Patrick Gaspard so interesting. The Reliable Source has learned that the director of the Office of Political Affairs is the only top staffer who didn't graduate from college. Nonetheless, he landed one of the most important jobs in the White House.

"He earned it the old-fashioned way, in the muck of street-level politics," said Paul C. Light, an NYU professor of public service. It's not unprecedented to have someone in a presidential administration without a college degree, said Light, but very rare at this level. Gaspard, at just 41 years old, has Karl Rove's old job. (Rove never graduated either. Hmm, maybe you just can't teach this stuff.)

Born in Haiti, the community organizer attended Columbia University's School of General Studies, an undergrad program designed for older, nontraditional students; he studied from fall 1994 to spring 1997 but was not awarded a degree. By that time, he was already in the thick of New York City politics: He worked on Jesse Jackson's 1988 presidential bid and Mayor David Dinkins's campaign, then went on to lead the 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers, one of the largest unions in the country.

"I've always been involved in organizing -- on issues and in elections," Gaspard said yesterday in an e-mail. " ... Heroes like Peter Jennings and César Chávez suggested to me that there were alternate paths to the pursuit of knowledge while leading a life with focused urgency and action."

Obama lured him away from the union for his presidential campaign, and the two clicked. Ever worry about all those other overachievers from the Ivy League? "I haven't given much thought to the distinctions," Gaspard told us.

Clearly, the president isn't a diploma snob. David Plouffe, who managed Obama's historic presidential campaign, dropped out of the University of Delaware -- but became an expert at beer pong and, eventually, politics. Plouffe opted out of a White House job but just landed a seven-figure book deal. So all you moms out there, relax.

By The Reliable Source  |  March 30, 2009; 1:04 AM ET
 
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Comments

Wasn't awarded a degree? Another way of saying he didn't complete the requirements. No shame in that, but no need to find a new way to phrase it. When athletes leave college, it's turning pro or other things, never dropping out. At least this guy worked hard and made it into the White House. I wonder if Sarah Palin's daughter, and almost-son-in-law, who dropped out of high school, can do as well.

Posted by: Sutter | March 30, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

This from the party that savaged Sarah Palin because she attended a small college -another example of liberal arrogance. We can expect more of these affirmative action appointments. Haiti, is after, is an intellectual capital of the world, liberal style.

Posted by: mhr614 | March 30, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Patrick Gaspard is an inspiration to all Haitian-Americans -- and a role model to the country's youth. We wish him the best in this position and look forward to seeing great things from him.

Stanley Lucas
www.solutionshaiti.blogspot.com

Posted by: centurionlucas | March 30, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Good point. Well taken. I suppose the Joe Six-Pack dropouts Palin spoke to will find a way to find fault with Gaspard and others with short credentials like him.

I'm listening.

Posted by: Spectator | March 30, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I'm always glad to see some people with no degrees or less-than-4-year degrees in the mix. It is part of our fluid American culture that all forms of achievement, in this case on-the-job successes, still have a chance of recognition. We don't want a hidebound rules-oriented culture, but some individuality of career paths.

Bill Gates is of course the all-time champ college drop out. Other interesting examples are Chuck Todd of NBC, who did not complete his bachelors (I think it will be insane if Georgetown doesn't just break down and give him one--I think he was one course away from completing), and the new FEMA nominee; I think he has just a two-year degree (in a related public safety field) but could be wrong on that.

Obviously from the list above (Bill Gates, Chuck Todd, FEMA guy) those without the college degree are sometimes all the more impressive since they rose on their own.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | March 31, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Testing comments.

Posted by: Bob Greiner | April 1, 2009 9:09 PM | Report abuse

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