Harvard faculty tilts decidedly left in political giving

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/05/26/harvard-faculty-political-giving-shows-pervasive-tilt-to-left/

CAMBRIDGE – Harvard University faculty who made political donations at the federal level overwhelmingly contributed to Democrats or liberal organizations, a review of data from the Federal Election Commission shows.

As an institution, Harvard has long had a reputation for leaning left. The campaign finance data provide a limited but revealing snapshot of just how predominant the tilt is.

Out of 102 current faculty members who made political contributions in this election cycle, 97 donated to one of the Democratic presidential candidates or a liberal group, such as MoveOn.org. That leaves just a handful – five – who donated to Republican candidates or conservative organizations, according to the data and an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog group in Washington.

Advocates for freedom of speech and ideological diversity on college campuses warn that faculties dominated by liberals tend to dismiss, if not downright discourage, conservative and other dissenting philosophies. In the eyes of many observers, a toxic atmosphere pervades many schools, stifling independent thinking and critical inquiry, engendering intellectual conformity and breeding intolerance. The campaign finance data reinforce a perception of Harvard as the “Kremlin on the Charles” and insiders suggest the reality may be even worse.

“It’s no secret that Harvard professors are overwhelmingly left-leaning, but the scandal is how many are illiberal,” said one administrative official at the school. The official would only speak on condition of remaining anonymous out of concern about the potential for reprisals.

“Although leftists are supposedly concerned with diversity and appreciating difference, many otherwise intelligent left-wing faculty are routinely dismissive and contemptuous towards conservative ideas and beliefs,” the official said by email.

“It would be one thing if these faculty just said ‘We’re right, and damn anyone who thinks otherwise,’ but many of them smugly believe themselves to be open-minded even though they engage in subtle and systematic bias that excludes conservative students and ideas from the conversation,” the official said. “That’s to say, many leftists on campus are in fact intolerant, and thus hypocrites. I wish we had more genuine liberals.”

One of the few outspoken conservative faculty members, political philosopher Harvey Mansfield, agrees.

“Those who run Harvard are not being true to their liberalism,” Mansfield said by email. “True liberals think they can win a fair debate when both sides are heard, but at Harvard they don’t hear the other side. What’s more: they don’t care, and they take no measures to remedy the problem.”

Federal data show that Mansfield contributed to a Republican during the current two-year cycle. His candidate of choice? Marco Rubio. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton prevailed with 41 contributors against 18 for Bernie Sanders, the U.S. Senator from Vermont. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley got one contribution before he dropped his bid while Harvard Law School faculty member Larry Lessig picked up several, perhaps a reflection of his status as a colleague, during his Quixotic run. A few donors gave to more than one candidate.

Rubio was the only GOP presidential candidate who received any donations from the faculty, which totaled at least $198,792 in the current 2016 cycle, with almost all of it going to Democrats or liberal groups.

The data reflect only currently employed faculty, a designation that includes some researchers and lecturers who may not have PhD degrees. Not counted in the analysis are the more than 9,000 faculty tied to Harvard’s sprawling medical school in Boston.

It’s not just free speech that may be stifled in such an environment, as liberal bias can affect everything from grades to opportunities for advancement for more conservative students. Some have buckled under the pressure to conform.

“I’ve had instances in classes where perhaps for a paper I’ve written something other than I really feel, because I know that perhaps if I write what I really feel I may not get the best grade,” Cameron Khansarinia, a sophomore who openly backed Rubio, told the Harvard Crimson student newspaper last fall. “I think that at times I’ve changed what I’ve written in essays so that it can fall in line with what I think is the professor’s ideology.”

Harvard does have an Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, but ideological diversity doesn’t appear to be among the forms of diversity it promotes.

Last fall, the office distributed placemats in some student cafeterias, coaching students on how to talk to their families during the holidays about police shootings of minorities, Syrian refugees and recent racially tinged controversies at the school and at Yale University. Most of the talking points were taken from a student organization, Showing Up for Racial Justice. A Crimson columnist called the guidance “a healthy helping of social justice reeducation.”

The head of Harvard’s diversity office, Lisa Coleman, didn’t respond to requests for comment for this report. Queries sent to the school’s media office also didn’t elicit a response.

But a few days after the placemats appeared, the freshmen and student life deans issued a joint apology, saying the mats didn’t reflect “the many viewpoints” on campus.

“To suggest that there is only one point of view on each of these issues runs counter to our educational goals,” the administrators said. “Academic freedom is central to all that Harvard College stands for.”

The issue of ideological diversity on campus is, of course, not limited to Harvard alone. In fact, an analysis by Crowdpac.com indicates that other Massachusetts institutions of higher learning may be even more solidly liberal.

Crowdpac scores Harvard at 7.7 liberal on a 10-point scale, ranking it close to the middle of the pack as the 210th most liberal out of 446 schools surveyed.

But several other Massachusetts schools ranked higher. The University of Massachusetts Amherst scored 8.5 liberal and ranked 73rd. Boston University was put at 7.8 liberal and ranked 195th. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology came in at 7.9, placing it 169th. At least one is less liberal: Boston College, with a score of 6.8 and a ranking of 333nd place. UMass Boston at 9.0 ranks 18th most liberal and appears to be at the top of its class in Massachusetts.

The problem of political bias on campus, resulting from a lack of ideological diversity, is a very real issue, according to Jacob Lane, who runs the collegiate network at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Wilmington, Delaware. The organization funds and provides other support to 65 campus newspapers and magazines across the country that offer a conservative, libertarian, or simply an alternative viewpoint to what passes as accepted orthodoxy at their schools.

“I’ve found that the climate that some of our writers face is pretty hostile territory,” Lane said in an interview.

On the other hand, campus political controversies tend to motivate conservative students to become more active in debates and involved in campus publications. Despite their overwhelmingly liberal leanings, there are several student publications in Massachusetts that belong to the collegiate network, according to Lane.

Two are at Harvard: The Harvard Salient, which is more politically conservative, and the Harvard Ichthus, a Christian publication which says it takes seriously the original full motto for Harvard: Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae, which translates as “The truth of Christ and the church.” The school was founded in 1636 to train clergy for service in the New World.

The Salient has its own Latin motto, Lux in Tenebris, which translates as “Light in the darkness.”