As Trump mulled chief of staff pick, U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows’s USF degree was fixed on Wikipedia

Multiple outlets and the House of Representative historian have credited Meadows for earning a bachelor of arts from the University of South Florida. He didn't.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., speaks to members of the media on Capitol Hill. Bloomberg photo by Al Drago
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., speaks to members of the media on Capitol Hill. Bloomberg photo by Al Drago
Published Dec. 18, 2018|Updated Dec. 18, 2018

There was a curious change to the Wikipedia page of U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows last week, just after reports surfaced that President Donald Trump was considering the Florida native and North Carolina Republican for his chief of staff.

Erased on Dec. 11 was a claim that Meadows earned a "Bachelor of Arts" degree from University of South Florida. The corrected Wikipedia page now says: "He grew up in Brandon, Florida and graduated from the University of South Florida with an associates (sic) degree."

It turns out, Wikipedia is not the only place where there's confusion over Meadows' academic credentials.

Multiple news reports over the years have credited Meadows with earning a bachelor's degree from USF. Meadows' official biography maintained by the Office of the Historian of the U.S. House of Representatives also claimed the candidate earned a "B.A.," or Bachelor of Arts, from the Tampa university.

Those biographies, researched by Office of Historian staff, are vetted by the members' Congressional offices.

But Meadows didn't complete the four years to obtain the degree listed on that bio. Instead, he earned an "associate of arts" from USF in December 1980, according to university spokesman Adam Freeman, "similar to a degree an individual might earn after completing two years at a community college."

Asked about his academic credentials and the conflicting accounts, Meadows spokesman Ben Williamson said, "We wouldn't comment for any piece." The House historian corrected his biography Monday after the Tampa Bay Times inquired about the discrepancy.

The Congressional biography for U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows claims a “B.A.” from University of South Florida. It was corrected after the Tampa Bay Times inquired about it.
The Congressional biography for U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows claims a “B.A.” from University of South Florida. It was corrected after the Tampa Bay Times inquired about it.

Trump reportedly considered Meadows, a close ally in Congress, to replace John Kelly as chief of staff. The interest was apparently mutual. On Dec. 10, the three-term Congressman told news outlets it would be an "incredible honor" to serve as the president's right-hand man.

A day later, the change was made to his Wikipedia page.

But by Dec. 12, Meadows was out of the running. Trump ultimately tapped Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

"I know the President has a long list of tremendous candidates for his next Chief of Staff, and whomever it is will have my total support moving forward," Meadows said in a statement.

Meadows, 59, was born in Verdun, France, at a U.S. Army hospital, and relocated with his family to the Tampa Bay area. He later moved to North Carolina, where he opened a restaurant before starting a real estate company.

News outlets have published varying accounts over the years of Meadows' time on the USF campus. For example, a profile from the Macon News in North Carolina reported that Meadows "attended the University of South Florida, where he graduated in 1981 with a Business Management degree."

There is no such "Business Management" degree for two-year students at USF, Freeman said. Rather, an associate of arts degree is earned by completing general education requirements.

A 2015 Politico story on Meadows more vaguely says the Congressman moved to North Carolina "after he graduated from the University of South Florida in 1981." A Wall Street Journal candidate bio from 2012 said Meadows "received a bachelor's degree in business management from the University of South Florida."

None of these stories directly quote Meadows claiming a such a degree from USF. It also does not appear that Meadows has ever professed a four-year degree from USF on his Congressional website, according to a review of archived web pages.

Meadows' spokesman Williamson wouldn't say whether the Congressman provided those outlets with incorrect information or whether he has ever attempted to correct the record.

Meadows is listed as one of two "USF Alumni in Congress" on the university's website.

The the corrections to Meadows' Wikipedia page came from a registered user acting under the name of "Chuck-sum." The unidentified account first began editing Wikipedia pages Nov. 6 and it has tweaked the biographies for several Republican politicians and figures, including those of acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and Fox News Business host Lou Dobbs.

The user also deleted that "During his collegiate years, Meadows joined Sigma Chi Fraternity" and that Meadows previously attended Florida State University. A spokeswoman for FSU confirmed Meadows attended the university from 1977 to 1978.

There are relatively few accounts of Meadows discussing his upbringing in the Tampa Bay area. In October 2012, he told the Smoky Mountain News that he grew up poor, the son of a draftsman and a nurse. He described himself as a "fat nerd" who lost weight after getting rejected for a date by a fellow Brandon High School classmate.

He later worked for Tampa Electric Co. in the 1980s, according to multiple reports from that time in the Tampa Tribune.

Meadows first gained national notoriety at a 2012 candidate forum when he said of President Barack Obama: "We will send him back home to Kenya or wherever it is," a reference to the debunked birther conspiracy once perpetuated by Trump.

The tea party favorite rose to prominence again in 2015 when he introduced a resolution intended to oust then-House Speaker John Boehner.

In 2016, he was the subject of a House ethics investigation when it was discovered he continued to pay a chief of staff who was barred from the Congressman's Washington office for complaints of sexual harassment.

Times Staff Writer Claire McNeill and Times Senior News Researcher John Martin contributed to this report.