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Professors for McCain

By Nini S. Moorhead, Crimson Staff Writer

During the presidential campaign, Harvard College professors have donated to Democratic candidate Barack Obama over Republican candidate John McCain at a ratio of roughly 20 to 1. Few at the College would be surprised by this figure. The words “liberal” and “faculty” seem to have been conjoined at the College for generations.

But now, as the election moves into its final days, McCain supporters on the faculty are vocal in their demands for more political diversity in their departments, bemoaning a kind of underclass of conservative faculty. Some have even called on University President Drew G. Faust to institute an affirmative action policy in hiring decisions that would bring more ideological balance to the faculty.


In a search of Federal Election Commission records, The Crimson found that seven Harvard faculty members had made donations to McCain’s campaign, totaling $11,000, since the primaries. More than 140 professors gave $222,603 to Obama. The presidential race in 2004 saw similar numbers. Six faculty members donated $5,700 in total to George W. Bush while roughly 75 professors gave about $50,000 to John Kerry.

In addition to the seven faculty members who have donated to the McCain campaign, several prominent Harvard professors have also served as advisers to the Republican candidate. Economics professors Martin S. Feldstein and Kenneth S. Rogoff both advise McCain. History professor Niall Ferguson also served as an informal foreign policy adviser to McCain during the primaries. These professors could not be reached for an interview or declined to comment on their role in the campaign.

Three of the seven professors who donated to McCain, all of whom identify themselves as conservative or Republican, touted their candidate in interviews over the past few weeks. A fourth revealed that he recently donated to the Obama campaign after McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.


Government Professor Harvey C. Mansfield ’53 explained the presidential race in terms of his book “Manliness,” which mourns the lack of manliness in a “gender neutral” society.

“The race between McCain and Obama is the classic match-up between a manly man and a sensitive man,” Mansfield said. He added that McCain’s ‘manliness’ would translate into a more aggressive national defense policy, which Mansfield supports.

Mansfield also said he greeted McCain’s choice of Palin with “modified rapture,” praising the Alaska governor as a woman who has set up a new model for feminism.

“She has shown that feminism as we have defined it isn’t necessary in order to change the state of women,” Mansfield said. “It is possible for women to be successful and powerful without bringing with it the bondage of sexual liberation.”

John P. Huchra, a professor in the astronomy department, said that while he donated to McCain in the primaries, he has dropped his support since Palin joined the campaign.

“It would have been a shrewd move if she hadn’t come out with all the inanities,” said Huchra, who recently donated to the Obama campaign. “The more we learn, the more we think she’s not competent. The key question for me becomes whether I would be a better vice president than she would.”

Huchra criticized in particular Palin’s view on scientific questions, including teaching creationism in public schools, which he described as “not consistent with a modern view of the world.”


Both Mansfield and Ruth R. Wisse, professor of Yiddish and comparative literature, spoke at length about the difficulties facing Republican-voting faculty at Harvard.

Mansfield estimated that within the 50-person government department, there are three or four conservative professors.

“For a department that wants to teach politics, that’s outrageous,” Mansfield said. “The weaknesses in the argument of liberalism are not addressed or not even known. It seems the University fails to appreciate there are two parties in this country.”

Mansfield said he believed his colleagues act differently in his presence and often don’t speak as openly.

Wisse, who supports McCain, also sharply criticized what she described as the College’s willingness to accept political imbalance as the status quo.

“It is not healthy when one side assumes the other is barbaric and writes it off and never listens to it at all,” Wisse said. “It just assumes that everybody is made in its own image and political correctness is all on one side.”

Wisse said the lack of conservative voices on the faculty has led her to be more partisan and outspoken in her views. But she and Mansfield agreed that faculty without tenure may feel uncomfortable expressing a conservative viewpoint.

“The worst consequence of this is that many of our best students have not gone into the academy if they have a conservative-tending outlook,” Wisse said. “Or they have chosen to camouflage it far into their careers, so that it would not jeopardize their position.”

Wisse and Mansfield also charge that what they see as the liberal slant of the faculty has led the College to omit certain specialties from the curriculum, such as military history and conservative political and religious theory.

Departments with a quantitative focus, however, may have a more balanced composition of their faculty.

Markus M. Mobius, an associate professor of economics, said there are a number of professors in the department who are conservative and “make no secret of that.” Mobius, who has donated to McCain twice, said an e-mail had circulated through the department asking faculty to add their names in support of McCain.

Huchra said conservative political views are generally accepted in the science departments, although supporting “intelligent design could get you into a lot of trouble.”


Wisse and Mansfield said that while they consistently raise the issue of political diversity in faculty and department meetings, they have not seen the administration paying attention to the issue.

Mansfield added that he believes former University President Lawrence H. Summers had intended to increase political diversity among the faculty, but Mansfield said he has yet to see similar attention from Faust.

“Liberals speak about pluralism, but there is no sympathy for downtrodden conservatives at Harvard,” Mansfield said.

Mansfield recommended a form of “mild affirmative action” for conservative candidates in hiring decisions to correct the imbalance.

Wisse also said she supported such a policy and compared it to a situation in which the University was short of American historians on the faculty and actively sought them out.

But Huchra said he did not support a policy that favors professors who hold a specific political ideology.

“The University shouldn’t go out of their way to hire more people that are either conservative or liberal,” Huchra said. “Other kinds of diversity at this place are more important.” He added that policies to attract more women in science, for example, would be a better priority.

Wisse said the responsibility ultimately fell to students to demand a more politically balanced faculty.

“The timidity of Harvard students in this regard is really astonishing to me. Thoughtful students know they are being short-changed,” Wisse said. “Where is the backbone of that part of the student body that knows where its responsibilities lie and does not rise to the occasion?”

—Staff writer Nini S. Moorhead can be reached at

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