George P. Bush was on the road to flunking out of Rice. His grandmother helped him turn things around.

By the end of his second year at Rice in 1996, the future Texas land commissioner was staring down the barrel of academic probation. That's when Barbara Bush got involved.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush speaks at a rally for school choice at the Texas Capitol on June 14, 2019.

Texas Republican George P. Bush has declared 2019 the “Year of Education” at the General Land Office, and he’s using that banner to travel around the state to stress how important it is to hit the books.

It’s a lesson he freely admits he didn’t always apply himself.

The heir to the Bush dynasty was on the road to flunking out at Rice University in Houston after two years. He might have been born into politics, but he failed a political science class called “Public Opinion, Polling & The Media.” Right before that he got a C-minus in “Congress” — the branch of government where his grandfather and great-grandfather (the P in his name is for Prescott) once served.

And though he’s the son of a Mexican immigrant and grew up bilingual, he got C's in introductory and intermediate Spanish classes, and D’s in European history and a geology course called “The Oceans.”

His grades were so bad that by the end of his second year at Rice in the spring of 1996, Bush, who had walked on the baseball team his freshman year, was staring down the barrel of “academic probation.”

As his office tells it, the poor grades didn’t sit well with his no-nonsense grandmother, former First Lady Barbara Bush.

“His grandfather was exceptionally proud of Commissioner Bush for making the baseball team at Rice,” said the Texas Republican’s longtime friend and senior advisor, J.R. Hernandez. “However, his grandmother was more concerned about his grades.”

George P. Bush, fifth from the left on the middle row, walked on to the baseball team at Rice University his freshman year. He left the team after one year.

Whatever Barbara Bush said — she wasn’t one to mince words — seems to have worked.

“Whether it was sitting up straight or ensuring her grandchildren’s grades were acceptable, Barbara Bush was clearly the backbone and ‘The Enforcer’ of the Bush family,” Hernandez said.

After doing the Rice Program in Spain in the summer of 1996, Bush got all B’s in the fall, earned an A in Spanish (the advanced class this time) and never scored less than a 3.0 in any semester. His last few months at Rice were his best academically. He took a total of eight classes, getting an A in six of them and B’s in two, putting him on the President’s Honor Roll for the first and only time.

“P” earned his highest GPA that semester, 3.7, a far cry from the 1.74 and 1.60 he got that dicey second year. He finished with a 2.79 GPA in the spring of 1998 — a few months before his father, Jeb Bush, was elected governor of Florida.

The younger Bush eventually got into the family business himself, winning a statewide run for land commissioner in 2014 and then cruising to a second term last year.

Now Bush, a former school teacher, is highlighting education issues at the General Land Office, which oversees the Permanent School Fund. His role at the fund, which helps support public education, has not been without controversy.

But in recent weeks the commissioner has been using a few of the millions of documents, maps and historic artifacts in the agency’s vaults to tout the importance of education and Texas history in public school classrooms. He will be traveling “across the state and participating in 50 education events to promote education” said his spokeswoman, Karina Erickson.

In August Bush visited Hillcrest Elementary School in San Antonio and rolled out some history — literally — that students could see and touch for themselves: a nearly 200-year-old cannonball that the GLO believes was fired in the battle of the Alamo.

Bush declined an interview to talk about his college grades and his turnaround at Rice. Instead, his office provided a link to a recent article in The Atlantic, in which he describes the rough sledding he experienced during his early college years — including an incident in which he tried to break into an ex-girlfriend’s house and later did donuts in her yard with his car.

“Emotionally, I wasn’t mature,” Bush told the magazine. “I started to take life a little bit more seriously and started to think about other people instead of just myself.”

His lackluster Rice grades call to mind the academic record of another famous Bush — George W. — whose leaked Yale transcript gave fuel to the narrative during the 2000 presidential campaign that the Texas governor was an intellectual lightweight.

Both Bushes were history majors and, given the family’s background, turned in surprisingly low grades in political science. Uncle and nephew also both applied to the University of Texas Law School. Unlike the former president, though, George P. got in. He was awarded a Juris Doctor degree in 2003.

Bush’s office did furnish a newly-ordered color copy of his Rice transcript upon request from The Texas Tribune. The Tribune located a somewhat harder-to-read version posted online. It’s been sitting on the Internet all but unnoticed since 2015 — product of an open records request posted by Muckrock.com. The site, run by a nonprofit that helps journalists and others file and share records requests, got it from the Florida high school where Bush briefly taught history.

Reference
  • George P. Bush's Rice University transcript.

Bush said on his 1998 teaching job application (also posted by Muckrock) that Rice “opened up a plethora of opportunities in academia, law, business, etc.” but that none of it compared to “the intangible benefits one receives after knowing they have made a difference in one’s life.”

“I want to be an agent of social change and I see education as the profession to go about doing this,” Bush wrote. He left the job after one year and enrolled in law school.

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