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Higher ed employees favor Democrats when giving to candidates

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PHOENIX – When they open their wallets for congressional and presidential candidates, professors, administrators and staff at Arizona’s public universities and colleges are far more likely to donate to Democrats than Republicans, a Cronkite News review found.

Of the $730,000 this group donated in elections since 2008, about 85 percent went to Democrats, according to Federal Election Commission records. That runs counter to overall giving by Arizonans, which was about 2-1 for Republicans.

Higher education officials often come under fire from conservative politicians and commentators who claim that instructors – if not the instruction – favor Democrats or liberal causes. Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the breakdown of donations suggests that most college professors are political liberals, something he said creates at least a subtle, unintentional bias.

“It deprives students of political diversity, and I find it disturbing,” said Kavanagh, who is a professor of justice studies at Scottsdale Community College.

But Terence Ball, an Arizona State University professor of political ideology, said that despite his donation of $200 to Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 it would be “highly unethical” to impose his political beliefs on his students.

“If you come into my classroom as a conservative, I want you to leave as a more thoughtful and reflective conservative, not a socialist or liberal,” he said.

The review included donations from Arizona public university and college professors, administrators, librarians, physicians, teaching assistants and associate faculty.

In all, 1,060 people in those groups donated to presidential and congressional campaigns for 2008, 2010 and 2012. The donors from ASU, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University accounted for about 3 percent of total faculty and staff at the universities.

For this year’s presidential election, 52 percent of donations through March 31, as GOP candidates have faced off in primaries, have gone to Democrats while 48 percent have gone to Republicans. For the 2008 presidential election, the breakdown was 89 percent for Democrats and 11 percent for Republicans.

For congressional elections in 2008 and 2010, 86 percent went to Democrats against 14 to Republicans. In 2010, 32 percent of donations went to U.S. Sen. John McCain’s re-election campaign against 68 to Democrats.

Rep. Tom Forese, R-Gilbert, who this year sponsored a successful bill aimed at prohibiting discrimination in higher-learning institutions based on a professor’s religious or political beliefs, said the figures suggest the need for a diversity of opinion in higher education.

“There’s a line somewhere, and my hope is that line isn’t getting crossed,” he said.

Policies at universities and community colleges don’t forbid political giving, though each institution has a policy against using school resources to advocate for candidates and causes.

Institutions are also required to abide by standards set by the Arizona Board of Regents like not allowing political participation to affect the objectivity of their teaching.

“We don’t restrict people from donating, but they don’t do it in the name of the university,” said Katie Paquet, spokeswoman for the Arizona Board of Regents.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Elizabeth Capaldi, the ASU provost and executive vice president who notifies employees about the university’s policy on political activity, contributed the maximum allowed for individuals – $2,300 at the time – to Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Capaldi declined requests for an interview but said in an email that ASU employees are free to make political contributions as individuals.

Eugene Sander, currently the University of Arizona’s interim president but a dean at the time, donated $520 to Democrat Rodney Glassman’s 2010 Senate campaign and $700 to Republican congressional candidate Timothy Bee in 2008.

“I do not support candidates one way or another unless it’s something so egregious you just can’t ignore it,” Sander said, adding that Glassman is a friend but that he normally votes Republican.

About 90 percent of the donations were by employees of ASU, UA and Northern Arizona University, while 10 percent came from community college employees.

Sharon Keeler, media relations director for ASU, said “there’s nothing impermissible” about faculty donating to political campaigns.

University of Arizona’s policy prohibits the wearing of campaign buttons during on-duty hours or off-duty hours while in a classroom or “other instructional setting.” Northern Arizona University’s policy prohibits employees from advocating for a candidate in the name of the university.

Clara M. Lovett, who retired as NAU’s president in 2001, donated $1,000 to the 2008 re-election campaign of Democratic U.S. Rep. Harry Mitchell but said she votes and donates money based on the candidate, not the party.

She added that people who are active politically tend to donate to Democratic candidates more.

“Helping the campaigns is very much a part of our freedom of speech as citizens,” she said. “As long as the money comes from your own personal checkbook and not the organization you work for, that’s your right to do so.”

At Maricopa County Community Colleges, spokesman Tom Gariepy said faculty cannot act on behalf of a community college district to influence an election.

“What this does not do is say anything about what people can do on their own time,” he said. “We don’t try to influence that in any way.”

Tiffany Andersen, a public speaking professor at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, said she doesn’t tell her students that she gave $500 to Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign or that she is conservative.

“When I was going to school for my undergraduate … I had a lot of professors who really seemed to push their liberal agenda so I kept quiet and didn’t participate,” she said. “I told myself I did not want to push any sort of agenda in the classroom.”

Self-proclaimed libertarian Dan Klein, a professor of economics at George Mason University, said that while students may not be directly influenced by their professors’ ideologies they aren’t being exposed to enough diversity of opinion.

“The people who are more collectivist or statist have just dominated,” he said.

University of British Columbia sociologist Neil Gross, who has done research on political leanings in certain occupations, said teaching at the college level is the most liberal occupation in the U.S.

“Very few have the goal of converting students from one political camp to another,” he said.

Rep. Tom Chabin, D-Flagstaff, a member of the House Higher Education Committee, said that given funding cuts by the Republican-controlled Legislature he isn’t surprised Arizona university and college faculty supported Democrats.

“If educators are concerned about increases in tuition … they’d better open up their pocketbooks and make an investment in next year’s election,” he said.

Beverly Jenkins, a professor and director of Phoenix College’s accounting program, donated $2,300 in 2008 to Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. She said she has experienced a very one-sided workplace in the past.

“Academia has always been more liberal,” she said. “They don’t understand the free market because they haven’t had to deal with it.”

Jonathan Penner, a retired professor from the University of Arizona, was teaching English when he donated $2,000 to 2008 Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

“I don’t think there is overall a very big influence on students,” he said.

Penner has seen policies about political activism change over his years of teaching. He was politically active and outspoken during the Vietnam era.

“I did work on campus with students and faculty who wanted to protest the war,” he said, adding “I never introduced politics in a class setting.”