So far this year, Yale professors have come out — pocketbooks first — in support of Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee.
Yale faculty members donated $109,590 to Obama’s campaign, compared with only $5,700 to that of his opponent, Sen. John McCain — an almost 20-to-1 ratio, according to a News analysis of Federal Election Commission records from the past year.
Obama drew significantly more money from Yale professors than did either candidate in the last presidential election, a fact that appears to reflect an extraordinary enthusiasm among professors for his candidacy. But beyond the magnitude of the donations, the seemingly lopsided support for the Democratic senator comes as little surprise at Yale, where just last week, four out of five students polled by the News said they would be voting for Obama.
Employee contributions were calculated from public online FEC filings listing all donations made since Jan. 1, 2008 — just before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus launched the primary season — by individuals who indicated Yale as their employer and “professor” or a related faculty position as their occupation. The findings are not scientific because not all donors list a specific employer and some Yale faculty members might list work outside the University as their primary occupation.
Seventy-nine faculty members donated to Obama, and just five donated to McCain, according to FEC records.
Professors this year gave $55,165 to “Obama for America,” the candidate’s official campaign, in addition to $54,425 to the “Obama Victory Fund,” the campaign’s joint fundraising operation with the Democratic National Committee.
Donation records for political action committees and state and congressional candidates further confirm the faculty’s Democratic leanings. Moreover, the $6,800 contributed by Yale professors to the DNC alone also surpasses the $300 that only one faculty member has contributed to the Republican National Committee.
THE OBAMA APPEAL
None of five professors and 10 students presented with the News’ findings expressed surprise at the faculty’s overwhelming financial support for Obama.
Gregory Huber, an associate professor of political science who is currently studying the prevalence of political liberals in academia, said although the results of his study are not complete, past survey work on this topic shows that academics are generally more liberal than the average American.
American Studies chair and history professor Matthew Jacobson said he thinks academia, at least in the humanities, self-selects a liberal population, resulting in the common notion of Yale as the “liberal university.”
Still, the overall Democratic leaning of Yale’s faculty might have less to do with red and blue and more to do with Obama himself, some professors suggested.
FEC records reveal an unprecedented level of enthusiasm among professors this election, at least on paper.
Filings show that in 2004 Yale faculty members donated $4,000 to Republican candidate George W. Bush ’68 — not far off from the amount given to McCain this year. However, faculty donations to Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry ’66 that year totaled to just over $60,000 — slightly more than half the amount given to Obama this year.
In both 2000 and 2004, professors donated more heavily to the DNC than to the campaign of the individual Democratic candidate — a pattern that was not the case in this election cycle.
As national polls show for American voters, Yale professors backing Obama are likely more “fired up” than McCain’s “lukewarm” supporters, Jacobson said. This trend, he explained, helps to account for the high number of Obama donors on Yale’s campus.
DISSATISFACTION WITH THE PAST
Excitement among professors for Obama has translated into big bucks. Eleven faculty members who donated to the candidate reached the $2,300 limit individuals are allowed to contribute per candidate in a given election. Most faculty donations to Obama were between $500 and $1,000.
Adjunct professor of music Richard Lalli MUS ’86 said while he had given “token contributions” to past presidential campaigns, his $250 donation to Obama’s campaign was the first time he has given a significant amount to a politician — and “with great conviction.”
In many cases, professors said, enthusiasm for Obama reflects more than anything dissatisfaction with the man he hopes to replace — President George W. Bush ’68.
Both Lalli and English professor Ruth Yeazell — who has donated more frequently to Obama than any other Yale professor, giving $2,000 to the candidate and $2,250 to the DNC — said they think that in past elections, particularly those prior to the Bush administration’s rise, the Republican-Democrat gap among Yale faculty donations might not have been as wide.
Lalli, who will become master of Jonathan Edwards College in January, said he thinks more professors might be inclined to vote Republican this election if it were not for the Republican Party’s departure from its “traditional conservative platform” of free-market economics and core social values.
Of the five University faculty members, whom the FEC lists as McCain donors — School of Medicine professor Stephen Edberg, Law School professor Thomas Merrill, philosophy professor Sun-Joo Shin, School of Management professor Matthew Spiegel and Spanish professor Noel Valis — two declined to comment for this article and the other three did not respond to requests for interviews.