According to popular stereotype, college professors are overwhelmingly liberal Democrats. New research shows that cliché is grounded in reality, including at several major Oklahoma universities.
In a new report from the National Association of Scholars, two researchers review faculty voter registration and the partisan affiliation of federal contributions listed in the Federal Election Commission (FEC) database.
“Since a large share of academics are either not registered or unaffiliated with a party, an independent measure such as federal contributions can verify, at least roughly, both professors’ partisan affiliations and the political cultures in academic institutions and fields,” wrote study authors Mitchell Langbert, an associate professor of business at Brooklyn College, and Sean Stevens, director of research at Heterodox Academy.
The pair found that fewer than 20 percent of college professors contributed to federal campaigns in the last four years, but noted that means professors still “contribute at greater rates than the general population at large.”
Of 12,372 professors sampled, 48.4 percent are registered Democrats and 5.7 percent are registered Republicans, a ratio of 8.5:1. Among the roughly 20 percent of professors who contributed to federal campaigns, the overall Democrat-to-Republican donation ratio was 95 to one. The ratio of dollars contributed to Democratic versus Republican candidates and committees was $21 given to Democrats for every $1 given to Republicans.
The story was much the same at three of four universities profiled in Oklahoma by the researchers, although the Democratic skew was not quite as pronounced.
At the University of Oklahoma, the researchers found there were nearly nine registered Democrats for every one Republican on the faculty, and faculty gave $2 in campaign contributions to Democrats for every $1 given to Republicans.
At Oklahoma State University, there were nearly nine registered Democrats on faculty for every one Republican. When it came to campaign contributions, no member of the OSU faculty was recorded as supporting a Republican candidate in the last four years, compared to 13 who supported Democrats.
At the University of Tulsa, registered Democrats on faculty outnumbered Republicans by a ratio of nearly three to one. No member of the University of Tulsa faculty was shown to have financially supported a Republican candidate, while seven individuals supported Democratic candidates.
Of four colleges examined in Oklahoma, only Oklahoma Baptist University had a Republican tilt. The registration ratio at that college was one Republican for every 0.36 Democrats. Only one faculty member at the university contributed to a political campaign, and that donor supported Republicans.
Nationally, Langbert and Stevens found that even college professors who are registered Republicans generally contribute to Democratic candidates—at a 4.6:1 rate.
“It would appear that the professors registered as Republicans often tend to be loosely tied to the Republican Party, so the skewed registration ratios may understate the skewness in academic political affiliation and culture,” Langbert and Stevens write. “Among professors registered to minor parties, the D:R donor ratio is 10:0. Among unaffiliated professors, the D:R donor ratio is 50:1. Among professors not registered, the D:R donor ratio is 105:1. These findings triangulate and confirm the overwhelmingly lopsided partisanship in leading colleges.”
The study is only the latest example of strong political partisanship at Oklahoma’s major universities. In December, seven Oklahoma law professors signed a letter supporting the impeachment of President Donald Trump even though they “take no position on whether the President committed a crime.” Three of the signatories were law professors at the University of Oklahoma and four were law professors at the University of Tulsa. Reports indicate three of the seven professors also previously signed a letter urging members of the U.S. Senate to oppose the confirmation of now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.