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As the race for the White House heats up and the nation’s left-leaning heads come together to unearth potential skeletons in President Bush’s closet, one line in his resume has avoided major scrutiny: the time Bush spent just across the Charles River, earning an MBA at the Harvard Business School (HBS) in the 1970s. Now, as some fervently question the commander-in-chief’s performance in the Texas National Guard decades ago and more current-minded politicos take aim at the events surrounding Sept. 11, 2001 and the invasion of Iraq, one former HBS professor is doing his best to publicize his recollections of what he calls a sarcastic, mediocre student who went on to lead the United States.
Yoshihiro Tsurumi, an avowed opponent of Bush’s current views and policies who was a visiting associate professor of international business at HBS between 1972 and 1976, said Bush was among 85 students he taught one year in a required first-year course. In the class on “Environment Analysis for Management,” incorporating elements of macroeconomics, industrial policy and international business, Tsurumi said students discussed and debated case studies for 90 minutes several times a week.
Tsurumi—now a professor of international business at Baruch College in the City University of New York—said he remembers the future president as scoring in the bottom 10 percent of students in the class.
Thirty years after teaching the class, Tsurumi said the twenty-something Bush’s statements and behavior—“always very shallow”—still stand out in his mind.
“Whenever [Bush] just bumped into me, he had some flippant statement to make,” said Tsurumi when reached at his home in Scarsdale, N.Y. “The comments he made were revealing of his prejudice.”
The White House did not reply to requests for comment on Bush’s time at HBS.
Tsurumi said he particularly recalls Bush’s right-wing extremism at the time, which he said was reflected in off-hand comments equating the New Deal of the 1930s with socialism and the corporation-regulating Securities and Exchange Commission with “an enemy of capitalism.”
“I vividly remember that he made a comment saying that people are poor because they’re lazy,” Tsurumi said.
Tsurumi also said Bush displayed a sense of arrogance about his prominent family, including his father, former U.S. President George H.W. Bush.
“[George W. Bush] didn’t stand out as the most promising student, but...he made it sure we understood how well he was connected,” Tsurumi said. “He wasn’t bashful about how he was being pushed upward by Dad’s connections.”
Tsurumi said that the younger Bush boasted that his father’s political string-pulling had gotten him to the top of the waiting list for the Texas National Guard instead of serving in Vietnam. When other students were frantically scrambling for summer jobs, Tsurumi said, Bush explained that he was planning instead for a visit to his father in Beijing, where the senior Bush was serving at the time as the special U.S. envoy to China.
In addition, Tsurumi is still sore about what he recalls as Bush’s slight to his cinematic taste. When he arranged for students to view the film of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath during their study of the Great Depression, Tsurumi said, Bush derided the film as “corny.”
At the time, Tsurumi said his worries about his student extended no further than the boardroom.
“All Harvard Business School students want to become president of a company one day,” Tsurumi said. “I remember saying, if you become president of a company some day, may God help your customers and employees.”
When he discovered that his former pupil was vying for the presidency in 2000, Tsurumi said he tried to inform the public about his experience with the then-Texas governor at HBS—but got few results beyond hate mail.
“Last election time, if you recall, the American mass media did a shameful job of vetting [the presidential candidates],” Tsurumi said.
As another November approaches, Tsurumi is trying again to air his criticisms of the man he once taught and his actions as president.
“This time it seems to be getting around a bit more widely,” he said. “After three years of dismal record, people seem more inclined to believe that all his failed leadership was apparent during the Harvard Business School years.”
In a July 2 speech to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo, Tsurumi repeated the broadside he has launched repeatedly in the past.
“I always remember two groups of students,” Tsurumi said then, according to published reports. “One is the really good students, not only intelligent, but with leadership qualities, courage. The other is the total opposite, unfortunately to which George belonged.”
—Staff writer Simon W. Vozick-Levinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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