HARVARD: Employees of Harvard University, pictured, donated more to 2014 campaigns than those at any other Ivy League institution.
By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Employees at Ivy League schools donated more than $2 million in the 2014 election cycle, largely favoring liberal candidates, committees and causes.
It isn’t a secret most college professors tend to be left-of-center — and studies show that’s increasingly the case — but OpenSecrets.org data analyzed by Watchdog.org says the university faculty and staff training the next generation of leaders are putting their money where their mouths are.
The five candidates who got top money from employees at each of the eight Ivy-League universities were Democrats, with the exception of two among the top 40 recipients. Maine’s Republican Senator Susan Collins was the fifth-top recipient of cash from Dartmouth College, just $2,000. And U.S. Senator-elect Joni Ernst was the fifth-top funded candidate from Princeton University employees, $5,200.
At Harvard University, where employees donated more than any other Ivy League at more than $1 million, the university earned the designation of “heavy hitter” from OpenSecrets.org. The Democratic National Committee was the biggest beneficiary at five of the eight schools.
Historic explanations for political leanings of academics are complex. But not too long ago, academia was more ideologically balanced.
In a 1998-99 survey by the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute, just 47.5 percent of university professors identified themselves as “liberal” or “far left.” By the 2007-08 academic year that had increased to 55.8 percent. And in the most recent 2010-2011 study, 62.7 percent of American professors identified themselves that way. At the same time, the number of professors identifying themselves as “conservative” or “middle of the road” declined in both more recent surveys.
It’s a trend Inside Higher Ed called an “evolution away from the center.”
Daniel Klein is an economics professor at George Mason University in Virginia, and he has published his research on the subject in a paper, “Groupthink in Academia: Majoritarian Departmental Politics and the Professional Pyramid.”
The trend toward the left shouldn’t be surprising, Klein said. Ivy League colleges set the trend for America’s other schools.
Like virtually any other group that gets to select its members, college departments tend to choose people who are like them. Once a majority of decision makers see the world a particular way, they’re naturally likely to weed out people who aren’t like them in favor of those who are.
“Once you sort of get a department above 50 percent (in ideology), they’ll tend to keep people out who oppose them,” Klein said. “So, it’ll tend to go from 50 to 60 to 70 to 80 percent, is what I’m suggesting.”
Choosing like-minded people may be a natural human behavior, Klein said, but it isn’t necessarily the best thing for the world of ideas.
“It’s a very important belief to people, their politics,” Klein said. “So it goes very much to who they are and their identity, and that’s why they really do want to protect and insulate themselves, which I think is what we’ve been doing more and more in the university.”
The lack of diversity in thought means ideas can’t be challenged, strengthened, or honed, as students may not be exposed to other ideas.
“So there’s a tragedy that way,” Klein said.
But politics don’t just influence academics — academics influence politics and policy, Klein said. Without conflicting viewpoints within an administration or counsel, things don’t come to light.
Look at Jonathan Gruber, Klein said, the now-infamous MIT economist who helped craft the framework for the Affordable Care Act. In multiple videos, Gruber explained to audiences how the lack of transparency in the law and the “stupidity” of the American voter were key to passing the president’s signature health-care law.
“It’s not irrelevant,” Klein said of academia and its influence. “It’s not just the ivory tower. It’s totally a problem.”
Here are the top donations and donors from the eight Ivy League schools — Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University and Yale University, as of Tuesday.
Brown, Providence, R.I.
Brown University employees were modest with their donations, giving just under $50,000 in the 2014 cycle. Democratic National Committee ($20,300), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ($17,300), Democratic Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline ($3,300) and Democratic Rhode Island Congressman Jim Langevin ($1,250) received the most.
The biggest donor was Christina Paxon, the university’s president, who gave $15,000 to the DCCC, $1,000 to Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed.
Columbia, New York City
Columbia employees donated roughly $400,000 in the 2014 cycle, with the most dough going to the DNC ($68,621), Cory Booker ($33,200), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ($28,575), the obscure X-Fund super PAC ($20,500), and the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee.
The single-largest donation, $20,500 came from Donald Green, a political science professor. He donated the cash to the X-Fund.
Cornell, Ithaca, N,Y.
Cornell employees donated roughly $291,000 in the 2014 cycle, with New York Democratic congressional candidate Martha Robertson benefiting the most ($145,232), followed by the DNC ($29,764), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ($17,646) and Illinois Democratic Congressman Bill Foster ($14,700).
Dartmouth, Hanover, N.H.
Dartmouth employees contributed roughly $90,000 in the 2014 election cycle.
New Hampshire’s Democratic Congresswoman Ann Mclane Kuster benefited the most ($25,500), followed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee ($20,000), New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen ($6,350), and the DNC ($4,900).
Harvard, Cambridge, Mass.
Harvard employees donated so much that they earned Harvard the designation “heavy hitter” on Open Secrets. Harvard employees contributed more than $1 million in the 2014 election cycle.
The largest recipient was the DNC ($133,313), followed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ($105,083), Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey ($93,500), Women Vote! ($60,000), and the Republican Party of Massachusetts ($36,500).
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
University of Pennsylvania employees donated about $233,000 in the 2014 election cycle. The Pennsylvania recipients who benefited most from the cash were Democratic congressional candidate Val Arkoosh ($60,709), Democratic congressional candidate Manan Trivedi ($18,250), Democratic congressional candidate Daylin Leach ($11,870), and Democratic congressional candidate Shaughnessy Naughton ($11,050).
Princeton, Princeton, N.J.
Princeton employees spent roughly $213,000 in the 2014 election cycle, the largest beneficiaries being Rush Holt ($38,350), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ($37,350), the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ($35,250), and the DNC ($14,950). Princeton employees have been Holt’s single-largest backer since 1995.
Yale, New Haven, Conn.
Yale employees spent more than $210,000 in the 2014 election cycle. The DNC topped the recipient list with $54,575 in donations, followed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ($36,550), Connecticut Democratic Congresswoman Elizabeth Etsy ($20,076), and the Kentucky State Democratic Central Executive Committee ($15,500).
Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau, and can be found on Twitter @kathrynw5.