by James A. Bacon
You’ve finally heard it from someone other than the Jefferson Council: Political donations by University of Virginia employees skew overwhelmingly to the left. In the 2022 election cycle, found Daily Progress reporter Luke Fountain, “UVa faculty and staff favored Democratic candidates over Republican candidates, based on donations, by a ratio of 30 to 1.”
“During the 2022 election cycle, Democratic candidates received 96.1% of donations, Republican candidates received 3.3% and Libertarian candidates received 0.6%,” writes Fountain in an article exploring the implications of a discussion during the June UVa Board of Visitors meeting regarding the desirability of tracking viewpoint diversity at the university.
Campaign donations are only one way of measuring viewpoint diversity. In 2018 the University of Virginia conducted an extensive survey of attitudes among students, faculty and staff that measured, among other things, respondents’ left-right political leanings. If it is impractical to conduct such an extensive and expensive survey every year, tracking political donations is a readily available proxy for attitude surveys.
As Fountain’s data shows, those motivated enough to contribute to political candidates overwhelmingly supported Democrats in 2022. Although the dollar size of the contributions dropped that year, a non-presidential election year, the disparity has grown dramatically since 2000 when donations to Democrats began a two decade-long surge.
Political donations are not a perfect indicator of political sympathies. They measure the sentiments of the most highly motivated partisans accounting for only a small percentage of the university community. It is conceivable that a large silent majority is apolitical or undecided in its political sympathies. Indeed, the 2018 survey showed that almost 40% of the UVa community (faculty, staff, students) classified themselves as either moderate or conservative. On the other hand, donations, as economists might say, show “revealed preferences” — preferences as reflected in real-world actions, not in responses to surveys, which are subject to a variety of biases.
We at the Jefferson Council contend that UVa once enjoyed a true diversity of political and philosophical viewpoints but is increasingly gripped by leftist orthodoxy, especially on issues relating to “social justice” and climate change. In a faculty of more than 3,000, professors willing to openly identify as conservative number fewer than a dozen — literally. During the June Board of Visitors meeting, administration officials were able to name only three conservatives — one of whom was an instructor engaged on a year-to-year contract, not on the tenure track.
Fountain raises an interesting question: If UVa began tracking data on political diversity, what would the university do with it? “Will it cause them to hire or fire specific faculty?” he asks. “No one will say.”
It’s less a matter of “no one will say” than “no one has thought it through that far.” The Jefferson Council has published campaign-donation data to illustrate how uniformly leftist the university community is becoming. Our goal is to push back against policies — such as Twitter outrage mobs, DEI statements and social justice-laced university tours — that make UVa an inhospitable place for the non-woke. Board member Doug Wetmore raised the issue of how to measure viewpoint diversity in response to the Ryan administration’s claims that it values diversity “in all its dimensions,” including viewpoint diversity.
The Council has not yet addressed the question of how to transition from a leftist monoculture into an institution with diverse intellectual perspectives. We’re still trying to persuade people that the monoculture exists.
As I told Fountain, “The idea is not to put a tag on individual professors, and the idea is not to create a kind of new ideological litmus test that you have a certain percentage of new conservatives.” The purpose of tracking viewpoint diversity, I would suggest, would be to see how severely out of balance the faculty is and to inform the board, from a strategic perspective, whether or not corrective action is called for.
The Ryan administration appears to believe that viewpoint diversity is not a problem. As Provost Ian Baucom has argued, whatever a professor’s personal political views, he or she can build diverse perspectives into a course. In theory, that is true. In our observation, many professors are not overtly political. But we have abundant evidence that the intellectual climate becomes more pervasively leftist with each passing year as retiring Boomers with diverse attitudes retire are replaced with more a more militantly leftist younger generation.
If viewpoint diversity is something the Ryan administration sincerely wants to foster, it should find a way to measure it — just as it measures gender and racial/ethnic diversity. If the Ryan administration drags its feet, the Board of Visitors should act.