From Harvard to the White House: Willard Mitt Romney

One impeccable smile. One slick shock of black hair, graying at the temples. Two Harvard degrees.

Mitt Romney has checked off the basic points of a presidential persona.

But behind the pristine grooming lies a unique political figure—a man whose time at Harvard exemplifies how his presidential credentials are at once typical and unprecedented.

So far, Romney has distanced himself from the University as he campaigns for president. He has even derided his opponent Barrack Obama, who attended the Law School, for spending too much time in the “Harvard faculty lounge.”

But in fact, Romney spent four years at Harvard to Obama’s three. And he has the diplomas to prove it—from the Business School and the Law School in 1975.


“It’s obvious that anyone who gets into both the Business School and the Law School is pretty special,” says Malcom S. Salter ’62, a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School. Salter, along with law professor Detlev Vagts, co-chaired and helped design Harvard’s joint J.D./M.B.A program from its launch in 1969.

The dual degree program typically accepts fewer than 20 candidates each year—a cadre of super-achievers, who take classes at the Law School and the Business School to obtain both degrees in four years.

“Nearly all of them made a lot of money,” says Vagts, who chaired the program for decades and watched many of his former students succeed wildly in business and academia.

Willard Mitt Romney began this rigorous program in 1971, fresh from Brigham Young University with his wife Ann and infant son Taggart in tow. The infamous student riots of 1969 were still fresh in Harvard memory, and while Romney took classes, Richard M. Nixon was ousted from the White House—after Romney’s father had resigned from his Cabinet—and the United States began its withdrawal from the war in Vietnam.

“Everybody was filled with the political ferment that was going on in the country,” recalls Howard Brownstein, another J.D./M.B.A candidate at the time whose roommate was in Romney’s study group. “The vast majority of people going to law school at that time were some brand of liberal activist.”

“Mitt was kind of a throwback,” adds Brownstein. “He just wasn’t a part of all that.”

Professors and classmates alike remember Romney’s engaged attitude in classes at both schools. Always ready to speak when called upon, Romney brought a sports coat and his trademark clean-cut grooming to class.

“My recollection of Mitt was that his hair looked pretty much the way it does it now,” says Law School classmate Robert C. Brown with a chuckle, recalling that many law students at the time wore their hair long and attended lectures in combat fatigues.

But Romney was not the typical law student—he seemed to gravitate toward the Business School from the beginning. Across the river in Boston, the Business School remained something of a conservative enclave in a University that had been dramatically radicalized in the late 1960s. “The Charles River might as well be a moat,” Brownstein says.


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