Large donations from Yale faculty went almost exclusively to Democratic-affiliated candidates and groups
Yale faculty overwhelmingly donate blue.
According to Federal Elections Committee filings data analyzed by the News, 611 current Yale professors and lecturers have donated $200 or more — the minimum donation amount that is publicly disclosed — to individual political groups and campaigns over the past seven years while employed by the University. Of these donors, less than 3 percent donated to Republican-affiliated candidates and groups.
11,526 donations went to Democratic-affiliated groups, totaling $2,196,222. Groups that donate to both Democratic and Republican candidates received 223 donations, and just 65 donations, totaling $20,861, went to Republican candidates and groups. 558 individuals donated to Democratic-affiliated candidates and groups, 54 individuals donated to groups that make expenditures on behalf of both parties and 18 donated to Republican-affiliated candidates and groups.
Of all donation recipients, the Biden campaign received the largest sum from Yale faculty — $169,390 — while the Clinton campaign received donations from the greatest number of faculty — 132. The DNC closely followed Biden in the amount of money donated, receiving around $130,000. During the recent Democratic primary, a greater number of Yale faculty donated to Sen. Elizabeth Warren than to any other presidential candidate.
Visualization by Thomas Woodside
Nineteen students and professors interviewed by the News commented on the data and its implications for faculty and undergraduate teaching.
“Yale professors seem overwhelmingly in favor of some central values and policies that fight against inequality, against sexism and against racism, while advocating for social justice, good and universal health care, and other similar ones that better the lives of all inhabitants in the U.S., citizens and non-citizens alike,” wrote Jesus Velasco, chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, which has one of the highest departmental percentages of donors within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, with three out of eight faculty donating. “I am happy to be part of a community of colleagues who express this degree of universal solidarity,” he told the News.
The dataset analyzed by the News is not necessarily exhaustive given potential name variations — such as a name being “Jim” on the FEC filing for a professor whose first name is James — that may not be accounted for. In addition, FEC disclosure rules have changed over time. To be included in the dataset, donors had to give more than $200 to a single candidate within a specific period of time, but that time frame has changed over the years: one quarter for all donations in 2013 and 2014, one election cycle for donations to candidate committees in 2015 or later and one calendar year for donations to PACs or party committees in 2015 or later.
Top donating departments
Of all University departments, academic faculty at the Yale Law School had both the highest number of donors — 51 — and the highest dollar amount of donations: $329,154. The Yale School of Management had the second-highest number of unique donors and donations, at 25 donors and $191,428 in donations.
Visualization by Thomas Woodside
As for percentage of donors by department, two departments tied for first place, each with 50 percent: the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program in Yale College and the oncology specialty in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale School of Medicine. Roderick Ferguson, chair of the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, declined to comment. Alessandro D. Santin and Elena Ratner, the oncology chiefs at the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale School of Medicine, did not respond to the News’ request for comment.
The Department of Astronomy, the only FAS STEM department among the top 10 donating departments, had one of the highest total amounts of donations — the 10th highest of all schools and departments — as well as the seventh-highest departmental percentage of donors within the FAS. Sarbani Basu, the chair of the Department of Astronomy, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Professors at professional schools topped the list of donation sizes.
The top individual donors were assistant professor of clinical public health Shelley Geballe, Milton Steinbach Professor of Management Barry Nalebuff, Deputy Dean and William K. Townsend Professor of Law Ian Ayres, Dean of the School of Public Health Sten Vermund and Deputy General Counsel and Yale Law School lecturer Cynthia Carr. All five donated exclusively to Democratic candidates and groups.
Geballe, who has donated a total of $174,250, told the News that “my husband and I view our donations as an investment in building a more equitable, inclusive nation for our nine grandkids.”
Nalebuff was the second-highest individual donor, whose donations included a $25,000 donation to the DNC this past spring. According to a previous analysis by the News, he donated a similar amount in 2018.
Nalebuff told the News that, as a whole, the Yale School of Management is very politically active and takes its mission of educating leaders for both the business world and society at large very seriously.
“My colleagues and I believe in science and in climate change,” Nalebuff said. “We believe in diversity. We believe in the value of immigrants and the contributions of international students. We believe in honesty. We believe in protecting others. We believe in wearing masks. I hope our teaching reflects these values without being political. And I, for one, would be pleased to support any political party that supports those values.”
Although Nalebuff is a generous donor, he also stressed that the Yale faculty are politically active in many ways that do not involve donations. For example, Skelly Wright Professor of Law James Forman Jr., who donated to several Democratic-affiliated organizations, held weekly letter-writing campaigns to encourage people to vote, with participants writing over 6,300 letters over the span of four weekends.
Politics in the classroom?
William S. Beinecke Professor of Economics and Management Edward Snyder was one of the few donors to a Republican candidate, according to information available from the FEC filings.
While Snyder told the News that he hoped that Yale, and universities at large, would avoid “echo chambers,” he also complimented his colleagues in the School of Management for the fact that they avoid letting political views interfere with the quality of classroom instruction.
“Many Yale SOM professors raise questions with students about business and society in a neutral way,” Snyder said. “It’s noteworthy that many students appreciate that approach.”
Lecturer in English Mark Oppenheimer ’96 GRD ’03 expressed worry, however, about the ramifications of left-leaning political uniformity at the University, although he does not think such uniformity is the fault of any administrative official. Still, he said, faculty members’ political views can affect the education that Yale students receive.
In Yale College, Aron Ravin ’24 is similarly worried about politics entering the classroom, and he is particularly concerned about how holding political beliefs that differ from faculty members might affect grading. But Ian Berlin ’24 and Shannon Sommers ’22 said that faculty members’ political views have yet to affect their education.
Sommers, who is a political science and history major, frequently encounters professors who engage with contemporary politics in and beyond the classroom as “public intellectuals.” She told the News her professors handle those conversations “exceptionally” well.
But of all 19 people asked to comment on the data as a whole and its implications for faculty and undergraduate teaching, Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History John Gaddis gave the most succinct answer.
“I wish we had more political diversity on the faculty,” Gaddis said. “But I also wish the Republicans were less loathsome than they’ve recently become.”
More generally, students and professors reacted to the findings with varying degrees of surprise.
T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Professor of Religious Studies Carlos Eire told the News that he was surprised that there were Republican-affiliated donations at Yale, an institution he considers to be a “giant liberal echo chamber.” He expected there to be none.
“There is no genuine diversity in higher education when it comes to political leanings, and no genuine inclusion,” Eire said.
David Gelernter, professor of computer science, agreed. In an email to the News, he wrote that to him, the data suggests that Yale faculty as a whole are both “closed-minded” and “incurious,” which he claims is a widespread issue across academia.
However, for David Simon, director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Political Science, the question of intellectual diversity is misleading. Simon acknowledges that there is an underlying preference for Democrats over Republicans in faculty, but claims that this could, at least in part, be due to “systematic” tendencies.
“While a couple of generations ago the key differences between the two parties might have been over economic or even foreign policy, they are now as much over values as anything else,” Simon wrote in an email to the News. “Universities have emerged (over the decades) as places that lean towards values like believing diversity itself is intrinsically beneficial, which runs counter to what the current Republican party leadership [believes]. One result of this is surely the bias in whom university faculty chooses to support, but it also certainly affects who chooses to seek work at a university in the first place.”
In an email to the News, Tamar Gendler, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, wrote that Yale does not take into account political leanings when hiring faculty.
Professors back a professor
Sid Carlson White ’22, chair of the Yale Socialist Party, was unconcerned by the number and ratio of Yale faculty donations to Democratic-affiliated groups. Instead, he was worried about the level of faculty support for the Warren campaign.
Carlson White, who called Warren the candidate for the “intellectual elite class,” also told the News that it was unsurprising that Yale professors would throw their support behind Warren. But he considered that support to be “terrifying,” as he saw Warren as resisting the radical theory of change that Bernie Sanders represented.
“[Professors who donated to Warren] are practicing a radically different theory of electoral politics than what they’re preaching [in the classroom],” White said. “Anyone who monetarily supports a candidate who resists that theory of change is highly suspect in terms of what their commitments are.”
Nalebuff and Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science Steven Smith also found the amount of Warren support unsurprising. Like Carlson White, they both specifically noted that Warren was the sole professor running, meaning that professors felt a certain comfort with her and her ideas that other candidates did not provide.
Visualization by Thomas Woodside
Sterling Professor of English Ruth Yeazell, one of Yale’s top donors to Warren’s campaign, added that Warren’s plans, both in their explanations of the problems and policy solutions, also likely stemmed from this professorial past.
Eugene Fidell, senior research scholar in law at Yale Law School, was another top donor to the Warren campaign. In an email to the News, he wrote that he first met Warren when he taught at Harvard Law School as an adjunct and Warren was a professor.
“I agree with her that we need major structural change and felt (and feel) that she has the intellect, rigor and personal integrity needed to bring that about — and raise the level of political discourse,” he wrote. “I also admire how she overc[a]me significant obstacles in her own life. The country is fortunate to have her in the political arena.”
Sterling Professor of Political Science James Scott, another top donor to the Warren campaign, added that he considered Warren to be more electable than Sanders despite her similarly progressive ideals.
According to a report from the Office of Institutional Research, Yale had 4,869 faculty members in the 2019-20 academic year.
Data analysis and visualizations by Thomas Woodside. Contact him at email@example.com.
Madison Hahamy | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, Nov. 5: An earlier version of this story said that Fidell first met Warren when they were both professors at Harvard Law. In fact, Fidell was an adjunct and Warren was a professor. The story has been updated to reflect their professorial ranks at the time.