By Vimal S. Konduri

Harvard Faculty Donate to Democrats by Wide Margin

Eighty-four percent of campaign contributions made by a group of 614 Harvard faculty, instructors, and researchers between 2011 and the third quarter of 2014 went to federal Democratic campaigns and political action committees.
By Karl M. Aspelund, Meg P. Bernhard, David Freed, Idrees M. Kahloon, and Alexander H. Patel

Eighty-four percent of campaign contributions made by a group of 614 Harvard faculty, instructors, and researchers between 2011 and the third quarter of 2014 went to federal Democratic campaigns and political action committees, according to a Crimson analysis of Federal Election Commission filings.

During the three years, the Harvard affiliates represented in analyzed public filings gave nearly $3 million to federal campaigns and candidates. Each of Harvard’s schools leaned to the left in the contributions made by their affiliates, many by wide margins. Ninety-six percent of donations in the data set from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which includes Harvard College, supported Democratic efforts. That figure was even higher—nearly 98 percent—at Harvard Law School. Harvard Business School was the most Republican, with 37 percent of its contributions supporting Republicans and 62 percent going to Democrats.

By Idrees M. Kahloon

For this story, The Crimson analyzed the federal donations of contributors who reported Harvard University as their employer and were listed in Harvard directories and websites as professors, lecturers, fellows, associates, researchers, and scientists, as well as visiting fellows and professors. The data set does not include people who only work as administrators.

Donations from faculty members with appointments at multiple schools at Harvard only counted toward the total of the school at which they have their primary appointments.

The contributions data is made public by the Federal Election Commission. The data does not include contributions made to independent expenditure, or super PACs, and nonprofits groups organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code that engage in electioneering communications. It does include contributions to candidate-linked PACs.

The data supports the commonly held belief that Harvard’s professoriate is largely liberal, raising questions about the ideological diversity of the faculty and what impact that may have on teaching and research.

Blue Ivy

Harvard’s flagship faculty, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, manages instruction at the undergraduate College and in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. FAS is also one of Harvard’s most left-leaning faculties or schools, according to the data set. From 2011 through October of 2014, the 183 FAS affiliates included in the Crimson analysis contributed $486,452 to federal campaigns and candidates, representing 17 percent of the University’s total.

Of the FAS total, $465,652, or 96 percent, went to Democratic efforts.

“I am amazed at how high that number is,” FAS Dean Michael D. Smith said.

FAS faculty, instructors, and researchers included in the analysis donated $18,200 to Republican campaigns and candidates.

Within FAS, the Physics department included the most donors in the data set, at 21, followed by the History department with 12, and the Economic and Government departments with 10 each.

The top 10 donors in the data set within FAS together donated $217,708, or 45 percent of all contributions by faculty with primary appointments at the school. The largest FAS donors in the data set include Chemistry professor emeritus and Nobel laureate Martin Karplus ’51, University professor and former University President Lawrence H. Summers, and Psychology professor Steven Pinker.

Speaking generally on the engagement of Harvard faculty on political issues, Smith said faculty at different schools vary in how much they speak with the public and government officials about topics relating to national politics.

“I certainly think that our faculty care deeply about [political issues],” said Smith, who had no donations listed in the data set. “You’ll see a difference in degree, what the Faculty of Arts and Sciences might be doing versus what the faculty at the Kennedy School would be doing.”

While the Kennedy School had fewer donors in the Crimson analysis, they were on average more generous than their FAS colleagues. The 69 contributors with first appointments at the Kennedy School gave $366,503 to political campaigns and political action committees, representing 12 percent of the University total. While about 86 percent of Kennedy School contributions went to Democrats, HKS affiliates contributed the second largest amount of Republican donations across the University, at roughly 10 percent of all Republican contributions in the data set.

The Business School’s 75 donors in the data set were the most generous. Seventy-five individuals in the data set with primary Business School appointments gave $913,015 collectively, accounting for 31 percent of contributions from faculty, instructors, and researchers across all schools.

The Business School was also the kindest to Republicans, with surveyed affiliates giving $334,850 to GOP  candidates and campaigns. That figure was 83 percent of all University contributions to GOP campaigns, but it still was not a majority at the Business School, where surveyed faculty, researchers, and instructors sent 62 percent of their contributions to Democrats.

Among its Harvard colleagues in the analysis, the Business School was an outlier. Faculty from the Law School in the data set gave the second-largest amount of money to political campaigns and committees at $692,792. Almost all—98 percent—of these contributions went to Democratic campaigns. Ninety-five faculty members, instructors, and researchers with primary appointments at the Law School in the data set contributed 24 percent of all Harvard faculty campaign donations.

Top Donors

While more than 600 faculty, instructors, and researchers contributed during this time frame, a large portion of Harvard’s faculty’s total political contributions come from a relative few. The top 10 donors across the University in the data set collectively donated more than $941,000, or almost a third of all contributions.

The University’s top donor in the data set was Business School professor Arthur I. Segel, whose $165,175 in donations went overwhelmingly to Democratic campaigns and organizations. As for non-Democratic campaigns, Segel donated $1,000 each to U.S. Senator Orrin G. Hatch, a Republican from Utah, and former Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for the state’s Senate seat in 2012. He also gave $500 to former Maine Governor Angus King, who bid for the Senate successfully in 2012. King ran as an independent but caucuses with the Democrats.

The third-largest donor in the data set was Martha L. Minow, who has been the Law School’s dean since 2009. Minow contributed $105,250, all to Democratic campaigns and organizations, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and campaigns for U.S. Senators Al Franken ’73 and Timothy Kaine, U.S. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, and the Obama Victory Fund.

Through Law School spokesperson Robb London, Minow declined to comment for this article.

Only one person with a primary FAS appointment, Suzanne Farver, made the top-10 list, with $86,700 in contributions. A nonprofit manager working on environmental issues, Farver is also an instructor at Harvard Extension School, which FAS oversees through its Division of Continuing Education.

Farver, who runs a course in corporate sustainability strategy and rarely comes to campus, described her work at the Extension School as “very much a part-time job.”

University President Drew G. Faust is not listed as a donor in the data set.

In the Running

While donations from faculty across all schools leaned heavily Democratic, some specific campaigns stand out as their largest beneficiaries.

The Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that supported both Obama’s reelection and the Democratic National Committee, was the single largest recipient of contributions in the data set in this time frame, at $541,001, or 18 percent of all donations. The second largest recipient, with 10 percent of total donations, was Obama’s official re-election campaign, Obama for America. It received $294,107 from faculty, instructors, and researchers in the data set.

The third- and fourth-largest beneficiaries were former Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren’s successful campaign for the U.S. Senate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s second unsuccessful presidential bid, respectively. Both occurred in the 2012 election cycle.

Other organizations in the top 10 include party-wide Democratic campaign committees; the campaign committee of Massachusetts Democrat Edward J. Markey, who ran for the U.S. Senate in a 2013 special election and was reelected in 2014; and the campaign committee of Connecticut Democrat Elizabeth H. Esty ’81. First elected in 2012, Esty represents Connecticut’s fifth congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.

According to faculty members who donated to her campaign, Esty is personally connected to faculty members because both she and her husband, Yale professor Daniel C. Esty ’81, are College alumni. Faculty from the Business School, Law School, and Kennedy School made up almost all of her faculty donor base in the data set, which contributed $47,000 to her campaign committee.

Laura J. Maloney, Esty’s spokesperson, said Esty contacts all donors and is responsible for her own fundraising, adding that her races were competitive.

Politics in the Classroom?

Faculty donors interviewed maintain that their political preferences do not impact their teaching and research. They said the motivation behind contributing to campaigns was often partially personal, involving relatives or Harvard alumni whom they respect and know, and was not just ideology or issue-based support.

“I think most faculty here are pretty careful about not imposing their political views on the students, and there may be some who do. For me it’s not a good idea,” said Business School professor Jay W. Lorsch, who donated $64,350 in contributions in the time frame, all to Democratic causes. “Students should be encouraged to think for themselves.”

To others, however, the lopsided ideological breakdown of Harvard’s core of faculty and instructors could present problems for the educational mission of the University. In a speech at last May’s Commencement, former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg critiqued what he called a culture of intellectual repression within American higher education.

“Great universities must not become predictably partisan. And a liberal arts education must not be an education in the art of liberalism,” Bloomberg said.

Government professor and Republican Harvey C. Mansfield ’53 argued that University faculty’s liberal leanings narrow the scope of research topics addressed on campus, as well as the academic conversation in the classroom to a point that does not reflect the political atmosphere in the country.

“The only debate we get here is between the far-left...and the liberals,” Mansfield said. “It gives students a view that a very narrow spectrum of opinion is the only way to think.”

Mansfield has donated $1,000 to Arkansas Republican Thomas B. Cotton ’98, a U.S. Senator elected last year whom he knows personally, as well as $250 to Gabriel E. Gomez, a Massachusetts Republican who ran unsuccessfully against Markey for the state’s Senate seat in 2013.

To the president of the National Association of Scholars, Peter Wood, “disproportionate numbers are manifestly a problem and it is something colleges and universities need to take seriously” should faculty begin being outspoken about their politics in their classes.

Smith, the dean of FAS, said he hoped that the political discrepancy would not affect faculty’s teaching, but he added that political beliefs might still affect the questions that faculty investigate in their research.

“It might have an effect on how people choose the problems that they work on in their own scholarship,” Smith said. “That would not be too surprising a result to me.”

Still, Smith said he thinks his faculty aim for balance.

“All the faculty I have ever come across have always been careful to present the material, both sides of the material,” Smith said. “They want that balanced presentation so that the students can learn from a full set of information."

Other faculty suggest that the intellectual culture of Harvard challenges students to think critically and selects for instructors and faculty members who are committed to the values of intellectual debate.

“I think that this is an institution that really chafes against simplistic adherence to one point of view or approach,” said Lawrence D. Bobo, chair of the African and African American Studies Department. “It is one of the great virtues of the University.”

—Staff writer Karl M. Aspelund can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kma_crimson.

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @meg_bernhard.

—David Freed can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @CrimsonDPFreed.

—Idrees M. Kahloon can be reached at

—Alexander H. Patel can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @a2xp3l.


Contributions data were compiled from publicly available Federal Election Commission records of donations to federal election candidates and political action committees. The data does not include contributions made to independent expenditure, or super PACs, and and nonprofits groups organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code that engage in electioneering communications.

After all contributions were collected from the first quarter of 2011 to the third quarter of 2014, only those donors who listed Harvard University as an employer were considered. Federal election laws require donors to disclose their occupation and employer. The contributions were organized into Excel files via an R script.

The data set was further refined to only include Harvard employees engaged in instructional work or research: Specifically, we include professors, lecturers, fellows, associates, researchers, and scientists, as well as visiting fellows and professors in our analysis.

The donors’ employment and positions at Harvard were then confirmed through use of the University’s internal directory and websites. Details on secondary appointments and affiliations and departments were also added to the dataset.

Individuals who are deceased or who no longer teach at Harvard are also included, based on their affiliations at the time they donated.

All filtering and analysis was done in Python.

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