If money talks, then donations to the 2004 presidential campaigns shout the obvious: Yale is a pro-Kerry campus.
According to Federal Election Commission data for all contributions greater than $200, Yale employees have made 143 donations to the campaign of Democrat John Kerry ’66 for a total of $89,961.
In contrast, employees have made only four contributions totaling $5,000 to Bush-Cheney 2004. One each is from a professor, a graduate student, an architect and a psychologist.
The amount of philanthropy far outweighs that of any other election in recent memory. Yale employees donated only eight times to either presidential candidate in the 2000 election and seven times to the 1996 campaigns. Excluded from this data are any contributions to funds other than the official presidential campaigns, such as the Democratic or Republican National Committees.
Although this year’s contributions are a record for Yale, they are still dwarfed by Harvard University’s reported donations. According to a study conducted by the Center for Public Integrity, Harvard employees had donated a total of $213,045 to the Kerry campaign by September, the largest amount of any employer in the country.
Few Yale students or professors expressed surprise at Yale’s donation numbers this year, or that Yale employees happily unload their wallets for Kerry, but not for President George W. Bush ’68. William Deresiewicz, an English professor who contributed $2,000 to the Kerry campaign, chalked it up to personality.
“Academics are thoughtful people,” he said. “And I do think that thoughtful people tend to be more liberal — not necessarily more intelligent, but more thoughtful.”
More importantly, he said, the choice to become an academic implies holding certain values that tend toward the Democratic Party line. Professors have chosen a lifestyle that values giving, thinking and learning over a lifestyle focused on money, he said.
Charlie Fiechter SOM ’04, the only Yale student listed as donating to the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign, described the same divide from a conservative viewpoint.
“You’re afforded the opportunity to hold a very idealistic view while you’re in an academic institution,” he said. “You’re not forced to come down to the realities of a business standpoint, of needing to make a profit, of needing to feed your family.”
That may be why the majority of students at the School of Management seem to be conservative, he said, in contrast to the rest of the student body.
Regardless of the reasons behind donating to one candidate or another, though, both sides seemed to agree on one thing: The stakes of the 2004 election are higher than they have been in years.
Yale School of Medicine professor Donald Redmond, who said that prior to this year he had never contributed more than one or two hundred dollars to presidential campaigns, shelled out more than $400 for Kerry and the Democratic National Committee. He and some of his colleagues are mulling over whether to leave Yale for Ohio, where they can campaign more effectively than in Democrat-leaning Connecticut, he said.
Fiechter, meanwhile, decided to take his fiancee to a fund-raising dinner for Bush in New York City — even though he had to pay $500 for tickets.
And James Bundy, dean of the Yale School of Drama, made 2004 the first time he donated to a presidential campaign, coughing up $1,000 for Kerry.
Others, such as Deresiewicz, are changing their voting patterns this time around. Although Deresiewicz said he voted for Ralph Nader in 1996 and 2000 to make a statement to the Democratic Party, he decided against it this year.
“One philosophy that would lead you to vote for Nader is that you know your vote doesn’t count unless you’re really voting your conscience,” Deresiewicz said. “Frankly, that’s [false]. We’re always in a position in life to choose the lesser of two evils. It’s not pleasant to stay in from a party to study for an exam, and it’s not pleasant to fail the exam. It’s a very spoiled, entitlist attitude to say you’re not going to vote.”
But concerns about the next four years are not the only reasons driving voters to contribute more than ever. Another worry, Bundy said, is the nature of this year’s campaigning.
“Before, I had trusted that … if the Democratic candidate had made a strong case, his message would be heard,” he said.
Now, Bundy said, he fears the candidate’s message will be drowned out by “fundamentally dishonest politicking.”
But while Yale faculty tend to be very opinionated, several professors said they do not feel pressure to vote for Kerry.
“I don’t think anyone would respond to that pressure, even if there was,” Deresiewicz said. “I could debate with my conservative colleagues, but I wouldn’t change their minds about anything.”
Instead, he will just contribute as much as he can to the campaign. And, of course, he will vote.