By Chrissie Long
Campaign contributions by Kennedy School faculty and staff overwhelmingly favor Barack Obama at a rate of 4.5 to 1.
The President received 41 contributions from Kennedy School staff in this election compared with former governor Mitt Romney’s 9. The median donation was $1,000.
The tendency for academic institutions to lean left is not unusual. According to a Huffington Post survey of 635 law professors, President Barack Obama won 94.7 percent of political contributions in 2008 to Sen. John McCain’s 5.3 percent.
Nor does the partisan imbalance surprise Ben Goldsmith, an active member of the campus Democrats.
“Democrats tend to put more faith in the ability of government to affect the world; Republicans tend to gravitate towards the business and private sectors,” he said. “You’ll find the people who are interested in the work of a school of government tend to have more in common with the Democratic worldview (making them more likely to be Democrats), while the people who work at a business school tend to have more in common with the Republican worldview.”
However, if dollars won votes, Romney tops his opponent with $117,500 in HKS contributions versus Obama’s $80,800.
Romney’s campaign fund from HKS was largely offset by a $75,800 donation from Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter who teaches PED-329: The Microeconomics of Competiveness: Firms, Clusters, and Economic Development at the Kennedy School.
What happened to campaign contribution limits? According to the Federal Election Committee, there is an overall $117,000 biennial limit, which is divided into $46,200 for candidates and $70,800 to PACs and parties. Porter contributed $70,800 to Romney Victory, Inc. and $5,000 to Romney for President, Inc. Additional money was given to the Republican National Committee, which was not tallied in this survey.
Of Kennedy School’s roughly 1,050 faculty, staff and fellows, 4 percent made a donation of more than $50 to a presidential campaign or public action committee this year. In the last decade, 163 staff members have made a political contribution (15.5 percent).
The numbers were calculated in a survey done by The Citizen, which compared the HKS directory to the Federal Election Commission database at fec.gov. Under federal law, all donations to a political entity greater than $50 must be reported to the FEC. When common names surfaced during The Citizen investigation and an immediate connection could not be made to HKS, individuals were left out.
Asked to comment on campaign contributions among faculty and staff, Associate Dean for Communications and Public Affairs Melodie Jackson said, “Membership in the Kennedy School community in no way diminishes our rights as citizens to participate in the political process. However, we do have a special obligation to distinguish between our roles and identities as citizens on the one hand and our roles and identities as individuals associated with this academic institution on the other. As a matter of policy, the School endorses no candidate and favors no party.”
At a place like the Kennedy school, where much of the conversation revolves around politics, the distinction requires a constant reminder, Jackson said. As long as none of the school’s resources are used toward a particular campaign, the school can maintain this distinction.
However, the left-leaning ideology of faculty and staff has leaked into the classrooms, leaving many Kennedy School conservatives looking for greater diversity.
“It’s a ‘known quality’,” said Scott Quigley who, like his decision to attend Brown as an undergraduate, chose to come to the Kennedy School because he wanted to be in an intellectual environment where people challenge how he thinks. “I listen critically for political spin that may cloud the facts and water down intellectual exchange,”
He said he would like to see greater conservative (not just Republican) representation, “Intellectual diversity is a critical aspect of any institution of higher learning; students should demand it. However, to simplify our intellectual/political discourse into “Republican” ideas and “Democrat” ideas is the wrong way to look at the issue. Frankly, I believe the dysfunction in Congress currently is a result of framing issues around this simplistic divide, but that’s for another op-ed.
Briana Tucci, an active campus Republican, agreed that the HKS should play a more active role in recruiting GOP faculty members not only to “enable students and faculty to learn from diverse ideas”, but also to attract more Republican students.
“Even if there isn’t exactly 50-50 representation, I believe that we can still achieve a stronger balance than the status quo,” she said.
The Kennedy school has not adopted a policy of recruiting from both sides of the aisle, Jackson said, adding that “we [do] aim for a diverse faculty.”
“Diversity includes demographic characteristics as well as political and other personal preferences,” she said. “Importantly, a substantial fraction of our faculty (and of our student body) is not American and thus, political parties in the U.S. are not the only political preferences represented at HKS.”
For Goldsmith, the composition of partisan preferences at HKS works. He said, “I’ve had several Republicans, several Democrats, but more importantly, a lot where I have no clue about their political preferences.”