99% of Yeshiva Faculty Political Donations Go to Democrats, Analysis Finds
"Diversity of gender, ethnicity, and orientation are important," former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told Harvard students in his much-commented-upon 2014 commencement address, "But a university cannot be great if its faculty is politically homogeneous." If Federal Elections Commission data on campaign contributions are any indicator, Yeshiva University falls far short of fulfilling this criterion for greatness. An analysis of FEC data from the past several years shows that an astonishing nearly 99% of current undergraduate faculty's partisan political contributions went to Democrats or Democratic organizations.
The data surveyed covered donations made from 2011 (the earliest time from which information on small donations is publicly available) until the most recent filing deadline in October of this year. Seventeen current faculty members donated a total of $8,080.10 to political campaigns or organizations during that period, with all but $100 of that amount (from a single professor) going to the Democrats.
The Democrats' overwhelming edge holds steady when contributions from non-faculty employees are considered as well. Of the 1,163 partisan political contributions, totaling nearly $58,000, made by people who listed their place of employment as Yeshiva University, 1,151 - all but twelve - went to Democratic politicians or groups, and the ratio of total amount of money given was greater than 11 to 1 in favor of the Democrats.
These massive discrepancies echo those reported at other universities. The University of California, Yale University, and Penn State were among several schools whose faculties’ donations were found to have heavily favored the left.
Nevertheless, the disparity at Yeshiva is still remarkable because it stands in contrast to the image of Yeshiva that many - including its students - hold. It is little wonder, for example, that liberals win a majority of donations at the University of California, where administration instructed the faculty that phrases such as "I believe the most qualified person should get the job" are microaggressions that must be avoided, and where the student government passed a resolution demanding divestment from the American government. Yeshiva University, however, has attained something of a popular image as - at least by college standards - a bastion of conservatism, and not just religiously. The archives of the Commentator and the Observer from the past few years record multiple students (and at least one professor) referencing the politically conservative views of many within the student body. This point is accentuated - if unintentionally - by the strikingly defensive tone of the Yeshiva chapter of College Democrats' promotional email (as well as its candid opening question: "Do you feel all alone as the only Democrat among your friends?"). Furthermore, Yeshiva is regularly described as "the flagship school of the Modern Orthodox movement," and a 2013 Pew Center study revealed that 56% of Modern Orthodox Jews identify as Republicans or lean Republican, compared to 39% of the general public.
Why, then, do political donations by Yeshiva University faculty and staff lean left? A single, definitive answer is impossible. Instead, we should consider several factors, all of which combine to create the current reality.
First, the explanations given above for Yeshiva's conservative image are much more applicable to the student body than they are to the faculty and other staff. Try as I might, I couldn't find any Commentator or Observer articles describing the Yeshiva professorate as inordinately conservative, and the demographic observation (the association with Modern Orthodoxy) applies much less to the faculty, which is exponentially more diverse than the student body.
Second, the field of academia in general is overwhelmingly the domain of the left. A 2012 study showed that 62.7% of professors across America identified as liberal or very liberal, while only 12% described themselves as conservative or very conservative. Political contributions by professors skew even more consistently in the direction of the Democrats. Liberal arts professors, who make up the majority of Yeshiva's faculty donors, are the most liberal cohort among an already liberal professoriate.
Anecdotal evidence from other students, as well as my own personal experiences, indicate that in this regard Yeshiva is certainly no exception. From the biology professor who urged our class to "fight the big corporations" to one who described the Washington Post as a conservative newspaper (though it has never endorsed a Republican for president) to the one who tried to use a Sarah Palin quote as an illustration for "stupidity" (though the joke was on the professor - it was actually a Tina Fey quote), my professors have shown an aptitude for revealing their political tendencies in subtle - or sometimes not-so-subtle - ways. Tellingly, though he was once the Democratic Party's nominee for the vice-presidency, former Senator Joseph Lieberman was by far one of the most politically conservative teachers I have had in Yeshiva College.
Third, political spending data is an indication not just of political leanings but of enthusiasm and level of engagement - it takes quite a bit of both to donate to practitioners of such a widely-maligned profession as elective politics. Thus, the only segment of the faculty in which Yeshiva College students seem to regularly detect political conservatism - the faculty of the various religious studies departments - barely register at all in the FEC data. This is likely because the Orthodox rabbinate, from which the RIETS and UTS faculty and staff are largely drawn, has traditionally taken a restrained approach to political activism, focusing most of its energies on pro-Israel activism and matters which directly affect the Jewish community. (Their non-Orthodox counterparts have adopted a wide variety of causes such as environmentalism and social justice activism, and accordingly are much more politically active, partisan, and likely to donate.)
Fourth, like any institution, Yeshiva must draw the majority of its employees from its geographic surroundings. Yeshiva's home, New York City, has not voted for a Republican for president since Calvin Coolidge and its registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by roughly six to one. As a result, Republicans are rarely competitive in local elections. (This helps explain why the Democrats' edge holds even among Yeshiva's administrative staff and other non-professors.)
With all of these combined factors - demographic, professional, and geographic skews - it becomes clearer why Yeshiva's professors are in political lockstep. Yet despite Mr. Bloomberg's warning, this need not be the insurmountable barrier he describes. If professors take care not to craft their lessons within the blinders of political ideology - and more importantly, if conservatives among the student body can speak up for their principles unafraid of potential reprisals, including lowered grades, from their professors - then classroom political discussion can be vibrant, balanced, and truly edifying.
A note on methodology: All campaign contribution data come from beta.fec.gov. Campaign donors are legally required to accurately represent their current place of employment, and campaigns are legally required to submit donor data to the FEC. Undergraduate faculty donation data were compiled by comparing the names of donors who listed as their employer "Yeshiva University" (or one of its variations, e.g. "Yeshiva Univ") with the list of undergraduate faculty available at yu.edu/faculty. For reasons of methodological consistency, I did not include the donations of former Senator Joseph Lieberman, who holds a chair in Political Science at Yeshiva, because he is not listed in the online faculty directory and he did not list his employer as Yeshiva University. From the time of the announcement of his employment at Yeshiva, he donated $2,250 in 3 separate donations - all of it to Democrats - bringing the faculty total up to $10,330.10 and the Democrats' share above 99%.