The Crimson published a lengthy study last week analyzing the contribution patterns of Harvard professors in recent campaigns (2011-2014). The tally: 96 percent of the donations from the arts and sciences faculty went to Democrats. These results shouldn’t come as much surprise at this stage, but they’re a reminder of just how limited the ideological perspective is on the nation’s campuses.
As always, a disclaimer is needed when discussing the relationship between political affiliations and the campus atmosphere. There isn’t necessarily any linkage between the two; Democrats can be critics of the campus status quo (I’m, obviously, an example of this), and Republicans can support the current climate. A margin of 60-40 or even 70-30 in one direction or the other would deserve little comment. But a breakdown of 96-4 has to raise some questions. Even Harvard dean Michael Smith remarked, “I am amazed at how high that number is.” The dean gave no indication, however, that the high number would trigger any changes in hiring patterns.
Four broader points emerge from the Crimson’s figures. First, and perhaps most important, the data exposes the hypocrisy of many “diversity” advocates, who demand certain types of diversity (but never intellectual or most types of pedagogical diversity) allegedly to ensure that students encounter a wide array of perspectives on campus. Here’s Lawrence Bobo, chair of the African-American Studies Department, minimizing the significance of the findings: “I think that this is an institution that really chafes against simplistic adherence to one point of view or approach . . . It is one of the great virtues of the University.”
Imagine if instead of a 96-4 split in favor of Democratic donations, the Crimson had revealed a 96-4 split in terms of white faculty members. Does anyone believe that Prof. Bobo would have dismissed these figures on grounds that Harvard “is an institution that really chafes against simplistic adherence to one point of view or approach”?
Second, the figures should (but almost certainly won’t) prompt Dean Smith to more closely examine hiring patterns, to ensure that groupthink isn’t excluding certain pedagogical perspectives. Again, there’s a difference between what might be expected from a slight imbalance and a ratio in some departments of 25- or 30-to-1. To take examples from history: it’s certainly possible that a professor whose specializes in, say, African-American women’s history will be a Republican, and a military history expert will be a Democrat. But all other thing being equal, neither outcome (especially the first) is all that likely. To what extent, then, does the 96-4 split indicate that Harvard is excluding certain types of more “traditional” pedagogical approaches from its hiring patterns, or that groupthink has caused the institution to seek to replicate existing professors in new hires?
Recall the sort of answers that asking that question often reveals. For instance, during the Mark Moyar case, it was revealed that the University of Iowa’s History Department had more than 20 registered Democrats and zero registered Republicans. (Moyar’s work, which defended the U.S. approach in Vietnam, made clear his conservative bent.) The then-chairman dismissed the relevance, by arguing that two-thirds of the registered voters in the university’s home county were Democrats—as if 67 percent and 100 percent were the same, and as if the university only recruited from Johnson County, Iowa.
Third, the Crimson data shows that many Harvard science professors made large donations to Democrats, and there appears to have been scant difference between the donation patterns of science professors and those of their colleagues in the humanities. I suspect that even a decade ago, these figures would have been much more balanced. But in the past ten years, political culture has featured two highly-charged debates over science issues—the teaching of intelligent design; and the reliability of climate change science. The Republicans’ position on the latter in particular has served the political interests of the party well, but it seems to have come with a cost on campus.
The science figures, however, are all the more striking when compared to the donation patterns of faculty at the Harvard Education School, one of the leading such institutions in the country. As Jon Chait has frequently observed, a tense relationship exists between teachers’ unions and the Obama administration’s education reform efforts; the unions seem eager for a return to Clinton-style deference to their wishes. And yet 100 percent—100 percent—of the Ed faculty who donated did so to Democrats.
That figure, of course, recalls the efforts of FIRE and ACTA against NCATE’s “dispositions” standards, in which the accrediting agency sought to require all Ed schools to certify that prospective public school teachers had a “disposition” to promote social justice. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out whether a faculty that gives 100 percent of its donations to a single party will take an ideologically balanced approach to such a politically charged concept.