Brown U. Faculty's Campaign Contributions 10-to-1 For Obama

This story was written by Scott Lowenstein, Brown Daily Herald


Following a national trend among academics, Brown Universityprofessors are donating to Sen. Barack Obama's campaign by a factor of almost 10-to-one over Sen. John McCain's, but fewer Brown professors are making those donations, compared to those at other universities.

All together, 26 Brown professors have donated a combined $27,300 to the Illinois Democrat, while just two professors have donated a total of $2,800 to his opponent. When all self-identified donations from university employees, which includes other staff, are counted, Obama's figure increases to $35,550, while McCain's rises to $4,100.

The philosophy department, with donations totaling $5,050 to Obama, had the highest per capita donations among all academic departments.

The Federal Election Commission requires candidates to report only those donors who give more than $200, so smaller donations were not included in the calculations for this article.

University professors nationwide are donating to the Democratic nominee by much greater margins than in previous years, according to an analysis by the Chronicle of Higher Education. University employees this year have donated to Obama over McCain by an eight-to-one margin both nationwide and at Brown, with margins reaching 20-to-one at schools with large total contributions like the University of California system and Harvard.

College and university employees donated about four-to-one for John Kerry in 2004 and gave slightly more for President Bush than for Al Gore in 2000, according to the Chronicle.

Overall, Obama has enjoyed a significant fundraising advantage over McCain, largely because of his decision to opt out of public financing, which has limited McCain's spending to $84 million since the Republican National Convention in late August. Obama raised $150 million in September alone.

Professors' preference for Obama this election cycle is not a surprise to Gary Jacobson, a professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego who specializes in campaign finance and electoral politics.

"Most academics already prefer Democrats in general," Jacobson said, adding that he would have expected donations to Hillary Clinton to have roughly matched donations to Obama. But the driving force behind professors' support for Obama, Jacobson said, is "pent-up anger at the current administration ... and seeing McCain as a replication of the Bush mold.

Nathaniel Baum-Snow, an assistant professor of economics who donated a total of $1,250 to Obama this year, said that Obama's style was more appealing to academics.

"Obama is the more intellectual candidate," he said, calling McCain's decision-making process "on-the-spot" and "shoot from the hip." Professors "appreciate a candidate who can reason through all of the decisions" he would have to make, in contrast to McCain's more intuitive style, he added.

Associate professor of history James Green said that Obama's support from professors may also be a reaction to what he sees as an anti-intellectual tenor to the last eight years under Bush. "It would be nice to have an intelligent president after eight years of a president with an intelligence deficit," he said.

Green, who donated $700 to Obama this year, said the Democrat could also be popular among academics because he broadens the "kind of diversity and inclusiveness" encouraged in university settings to society at large.

Of the two professors who donated to McCain, one did not return calls for comment and the other could not be reached before press time.

In an election when university employees are making record donations -- a total of $13.7 million throuh last month -- the question of diversity of political discourse has increasingly emerged as an issue on college campuses.

Marion Orr, director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy, was criticized in the media earlier this year for donating $500 to Obama while working as a pollster for Brown. Orr could not be reached for comment, though he defended the poll to the Associated Press last month. "I'm a really balanced and fair political scientist," Orr told the AP. "My students have no sense of my political leanings in class, I can assure you that."

The debate over professors' rights to publicly express their political beliefs reached new heights when, a month ago, the University of Illinois ethics office banned all employees from wearing political buttons or having political bumper stickers on their cars in parking lots unless strictly non-partisan. The decision caused an uproar, though the policy has since been reversed.

Calling the University of Illinois decision "outrageous," Green said politics should still play a role in the classroom, though it is inappropriate for professors to lecture about their preferred political candidate in class.

"Each professor has to make a decision about how their First Amendment rights to say what they want might silence debate in their classroom," he said.

- With additional reporting by Emmy Liss and Sophia Li
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