How Vivek Ramaswamy turned his elite education into a degree in devil's advocacy

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When Harvard was renegotiating a contract with janitors and other workers in the fall of 2005, many students pushed the nation’s oldest and wealthiest university to pay a living wage.

Vivek Ramaswamy, then a politically active biology major, led the dissent. Writing for the school newspaper, he argued that a raise would come “at the cost of respect that the rest of the Harvard community has for these workers.” And in Listserv emails obtained by NBC News, he bemoaned the student government’s involvement in the debate, citing the recently bungled planning of a Wyclef Jean concert.

“Their duty to perform these basic tasks,” Ramaswamy, now a Republican candidate for president, wrote to Ali Zaidi, then a student government official, now President Joe Biden’s top climate policy adviser, supersedes “their prerogative to make political statements on behalf of the student body.”

It was neither the first nor last time that Ramaswamy earned his reputation as a disruptive brainiac who was willing, and even eager, to dance on political third rails and challenge conventions.