U. Rhode Island Faculty, Staff Give At Least $86,790 To Dems

This story was written by Bridgette Blight, The Good Five Cent Cigar
Since 2000, University of Rhode Island professors have donated at least $95,740 to political initiatives, mostly to Democratic causes, according to the Federal Election Commission's online database, a Cigar analysis has found.

Out of the $95,740 donated by URI employees since 2000, $8,950, or approximately 9.3 percent, was donated to Republican candidates, independent candidates or nonpartisan political action committees.

Of that $8,950, $3,900 were contributions to Lincoln Chafee's failed reelection campaign to the U.S. Senate. Although Chafee was a Republican at the time, after losing the election he left the Republican Party.

The remainder, $86,790, was given to Democratic candidates.

Although a handful of faculty gave big donations to political causes, the university's total lags behind many schools. For example, in the 2008 election cycle alone, Harvard College professors donated $266,044, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

URI political science professor Maureen Moakley was not surprised at the amount of contributions made by URI professors. She said that professors are not typically big donors.

Moakley added that contributions are not a very good indicator of overall faculty participation in the political system. Academics are more likely to be active in political campaigns and elections, she said.

And they do so without fear of losing their jobs because of tenure.

"One of the positive aspects of being a professor is tenure," Moakley said. "You can't be held accountable for your political beliefs."

This freedom leads to politically active professors and a politically inclined culture on most college campuses, Moakley said. However, some of the top donors at URI do not see many of their colleagues as politically active.

"I have not seen much organized political activity on the part of the URI faculty," said Bruce Sundlun, governor of Rhode Island from 1991 until 1995 and URI instructor.

Sundlun is the biggest donor at URI. Since 2000, he has donated at least $39,575 to Democratic candidates and the Democratic National Committee.

Russian and world literature professor Sona Aronian, the second largest donor, said she wasn't sure about the level of political activity among her colleagues.

"I only talk about politics with close colleagues, friends and family," she said.

Aronian's interest in politics began while growing up in Massachusetts with a politically active family. Since 2000, Aronian has donated at least $11,000 to various campaigns such as Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

"I've always been a political junkie," she said. "I've licked envelopes and waved flags. Now I contribute, and I also e-mail my representatives and senators."

Electrical and computer engineering professor-in-residence Augustus Uht developed an interest in politics "other than voting" during the 2000 presidential election. Since then he has donated at least $5,750 to political causes.

"I didn't want George Bush elected," he said.

Uht began contributing to campaigns in 2004. Most of his donations were to the Democratic National Committee. Uht also donated to Keeping America's Promise, a political action committee headed by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., that raises money to maintain the Democratic majority in Congress. All of the recipients of Uht's contributions have been Democrats.

"[I made contributions] mainly to make sure as much as I could that the Democrats would get elected to those seats," he said.

Uht volunteered during the 2004 and 2006 campaign cycles. In 2004 he spent 12 days in New Hampshire as an administrative assistant to help with that state's electios. In 2006, the election where Democrats became the majority party in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, Uht drove the elderly to polling places.

"I think [contributions and time] are needed," he said. "Usually the time is harder to give for many people but I think it's most important."

Professors also cited political debate, especially on a college campus, as an important part of democracy.

During an interview, Aronian held up a copy of the Nov. 15 issue of the Cigar with a cover story on the debate between the URI College Republicans and Democrats.

"I was glad to see a debate on one of my favorite issues," she said.

Sundlun and Aronian wished that URI students were more politically active.

"It's surprising that there's not more political activity here at URI," Sundlun said.

"If they believe in democracy, then it's their responsibility to participate," Aronian said. "If their lives are perfect, don't they care about anyone else?"
© 2007 The Good Five Cent Cigar via U-WIRE