Recent polls indicate that Americans are almost evenly divided on the 2004 presidential election, but GW’s staff is leaning heavily in one direction. University employees have donated three times more money to Sen. John Kerry than to President Bush, according to public donations records.
Staff members contributed more than $97,000 to political causes during 2004 election cycle. Nine percent of that money went to Bush, while 29 percent went to Kerry. When other political candidates and organizations are factored in, GW employees gave Democrats about $77,000 – more than four times as much as the Republican total.
The statistics come from Federal Election Commission data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Only donations of $200 or more were considered.
The disparity between the politics of the national population and the overwhelming support for Kerry among GW staff members raises questions for some people.
“I think it illustrates the problem. They’re free to donate to whomever they want, but there’s very few conservative professors in academia,” said Sarah Dogan, national director of Students for Academic Freedom, a group that seeks to keep partisan politics out of the classroom. “Conservatives really aren’t welcomed in academia … (universities) actively discriminate against conservative applicants.”
She added, “We’ve done surveys on political affiliations of faculty at top schools … at most of the Ivy League schools its 95 percent (support for Democrats).”
Jonathan Molot is an associate law professor at GW specializing in legal ethics and administrative law. He donated $5,500 to Democratic candidates during the 2004 election cycle, including $1,000 to Kerry and $2,000 to Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama. He dismissed allegations that there is a political bias at colleges.
“I think that GW Law School has been very balanced in faculty appointments,” he said. “Politics play no role whatsoever, and although the entire academy tends to lean Democratic, I think GW is as open as any institution to the diversity of political perspectives.”
He also said that GW is less partisan than other schools. Staff at most Ivy League schools, Georgetown University the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University and the College of William and Mary gave more than 90 percent of their donations to Democrats.
“GW seems more balanced, and I know from informal interactions with the culture of the faculty that some of our strongest faculty members are very supportive of Republican candidates in politics.” Molot said. “And frankly, very often the views of faculty on legal matters don’t line up with their views on partisan political matters.”
Dogan said she has heard complaints from all over the country about professors bringing politics into the classroom.
“It’s very rampant – I hear from students almost every day. We have 135 chapters across the country and many more people contact us than that,” she said. “It’s a violation of academic freedoms when professors try to indoctrinate them with information irrelevant to the course.”
However, some of GW’s most active Republican students said they have not experienced bitter partisan politics in their classrooms.
“A liberal arts education … is based on rational thought and opinion. It’s only natural that (the professor) has an opinion,” said Stan Dai, senior editor at The GW Patriot, a conservative student publication. “Personally at GW, I’ve never had a professor do it in an exclusionary fashion.”
Justin Neidig, director of public relations for the College Republicans, said that while he has not felt the effect of partisan professors, he has heard other students complain.
“While the quality of education is great here, there are those rare circumstances when you can see your professor is leaning more to the left,” Neidig said. “I have teachers who I know are liberal, but that’s never affected the class. Some of my friends have told me stories about professors that have made comments that aren’t appropriate to the discussion or what’s at hand.”
Neidig said it is acceptable for teachers to donate money and added that the “overwhelming majority” of professors do not bring partisanship to their classes.
Senior Chrissy Trotta, chair of the College Republicans, said she has seen professors bring liberal messages into the lecture hall.
“It seems to me … that everybody is extremely polarized, and people’s political viewpoints are coming out all throughout the day in all sorts of forums,” she said. “I notice in the classroom that my professors are seemingly more liberal than ever before.”
Cynthia McClintock, who teaches in the Elliott School of International Affairs, has donated $11,500 to Democrats, including $5,000 to the League of Conservation Voters. As a Latin American expert, she said her views of the current president mirror those of the people she studies.
“I think when you look at the election from the standpoint of Latin America, Bush is not very popular among Latin Americans,” she said.
She said that even though she opposes the president and his unilateralist tendencies, she tries not to let her political affiliation affect her teaching.
“I try as hard as I can to be reasonable … you can’t totally take the personality out of the classroom because kids want to see who you are,” she said. “You can’t say, ‘We’re going to give 30 minutes to one side and 30 minutes to the other,’ but I try to be open and fair, and students always say that I am.”