When the Lexington Herald-Leader reported last week that Rand Paul was, in effect, a college dropout, it looked like the 2010 midterms might feature yet another fabulist. So far this year we’ve seen Connecticut Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal get busted for telling tall tales about having served in Vietnam; and in the Illinois Senate race, Mark Kirk was caught lying about everything from winning the Navy’s “Intelligence Officer of the Year Award” to teaching nursery school. Had Paul, who’s running for Kentucky’s open U.S. Senate seat, similarly fibbed about holding a bachelor’s degree from Baylor University? In a word: no.
Although many media outlets have incorrectly reported that Paul did graduate from Baylor—on the assumption that because he holds a medical degree from Duke, he must also hold a bachelors degree from the university where he did his undergrad—Paul himself has always been careful to say, in interviews and in his campaign literature, that he merely “attended” the Texas school. As the Herald-Leader story explains, Paul was a student at Baylor from 1981 through 1984 and left after taking the MCAT and scoring high enough to gain admission to Duke Medical School—which doesn’t contradict anything Paul has said publicly about his educational background. In fact, when I asked Paul’s campaign manager Jesse Benton last month whether or not the candidate had graduated from Baylor, Benton readily admitted Paul hadn’t. It clearly wasn’t some secret the campaign was trying to hide from the public. What’s more, Paul appears to have been telling the truth in private, too. In 1993, when he was 30 years old and finishing up his ophthalmology training at Duke, the CV he sent around to potential employers listed his M.D. from Duke, his article on “Presumed Autoimmune Corneal Endotheliopathy” in The American Journal of Ophthalmology, and his participation in soccer and softball leagues; it did not list a bachelor’s degree from Baylor.
What’s truly interesting about Rand Paul and Baylor is not the issue of whether or not he graduated; it’s what he did at Baylor during the two-and-a-half years he spent there. As I discovered in the course of reporting a story about Paul for GQ, he wasn’t your typical Baylor student.
Baylor seemed like a natural fit for someone like Paul. Located in Waco, it’s the world’s largest Baptist University and has a long history of educating the children of prominent Texas conservative politicos. As the son of Houston-area Congressman Ron Paul, young Rand—or Randy, as he was known back then—appeared to be following in that tradition. But when Paul showed up in Waco, he didn’t conform to type. According to several of his former Baylor classmates, he became a member of a secret society called the NoZe Brotherhood, which was a refuge for atypical Baylor students. “You could have taken 90 percent of the liberal thinkers at Baylor and found them in this small group,” recalls Marc Burckhardt, one of Paul’s former NoZe Brothers. Sort of a cross between Yale’s Skull & Bones and Harvard’s Lampoon, the NoZe existed to torment the Baylor administration, which it accomplished through pranks and its satirical newspaper The Rope. The group especially enjoyed tweaking the school’s religiosity. “We aspired to blasphemy,” says John Green, another of Paul’s former NoZe Brothers.
And so the NoZe Brothers would perform “Christian” songs like “Rock Around the Cross”; they’d parade around campus carrying a giant picture of Anita Bryant with a large hole cut out of her mouth after the former beauty queen proclaimed oral sex sinful; and they’d run ads for a Waco strip club on the back page of The Rope. In 1978, the Baylor administration became so fed up with the NoZe that it suspended the group from campus for being, in the words of Baylor’s president at the time, “lewd, crude, and grossly sacrilegious.” During Paul’s three years at Baylor, according to former NoZe Brothers, if the administration discovered a student was a member of the NoZe, the punishment was automatic expulsion.
So far as anyone knows, Paul’s membership in the NoZe was never found out by Baylor higher-ups and, despite rumors to the contrary floating around Kentucky, his early departure from the university was of his own accord. “From the Fall of ’81 to the Spring of ’86, no one got expelled,” says Green. “We came close a couple times, but they never actually laid a hand on us or threw anybody out.” But Paul certainly seems to have done enough stuff at Baylor that, had the university ever known about it, he would have gotten the boot. Green vaguely recalls one late-night prank, undertaken by Paul and another NoZe brother after a few too many beers, to dig up a time capsule buried in 1945 in the center of the school’s campus; all they ended up doing was knocking over the monument that sat atop the time capsule.
The strangest episode of Paul’s time at Baylor occurred one afternoon in 1983 (although memories about all of these events are understandably a bit hazy, so the date might be slightly off), when he and a NoZe brother paid a visit to a female student who was one of Paul’s teammates on the Baylor swim team. According to this woman, who requested anonymity because of her current job as a clinical psychologist, “He and Randy came to my house, they knocked on my door, and then they blindfolded me, tied me up, and put me in their car. They took me to their apartment and tried to force me to take bong hits. They’d been smoking pot.” After the woman refused to smoke with them, Paul and his friend put her back in their car and drove to the countryside outside of Waco, where they stopped near a creek. “They told me their god was ‘Aqua Buddha’ and that I needed to bow down and worship him,” the woman recalls. “They blindfolded me and made me bow down to ‘Aqua Buddha’ in the creek. I had to say, ‘I worship you Aqua Buddha, I worship you.’ At Baylor, there were people actively going around trying to save you and we had to go to chapel, so worshiping idols was a big no-no.”
Nearly 30 years later, the woman is still trying to make sense of that afternoon. “They never hurt me, they never did anything wrong, but the whole thing was kind of sadistic. They were messing with my mind. It was some kind of joke.” She hadn’t actually realized that Paul wound up leaving Baylor early. “I just know I never saw Randy after that—for understandable reasons, I think.”
When I asked Benton late last week if Paul remembered any of these episodes from his Baylor days, he replied in an email: “During his time at Baylor, Dr. Paul competed on the swim team and was an active member of Young Conservatives of Texas.”