Over the past couple weeks, we have seen numerous articles about politics on campus, especially concerning Uncomfortable Learning. Ironically, though, other than from sources external to the College, there seem to have been few opinion pieces from conservative students. I would like to respond to previous opinions while also looking at some data.
It seems that a point mentioned in an opinion piece for the Williams Alternative, but glossed over as just matter-of-fact, is much more important than it appears. I am referring to how politically-concentrated the faculties and administrations are at most colleges. There exists a substantial amount of literature regarding this bias, but it is not something to just write off – these people determine most of the curriculum and rules for their respective colleges. Therefore, I decided to investigate how political donations break down among recent faculty and administration hires here at the College to get an idea of the diversity.
One can find public information on donations through the website of the Federal Election Commission (FEC). I used the FEC’s “Advanced Transaction Query by Individual Contributor” for political committees, including joint fundraising committees, to search for employees of the College.
After checking whether the employee was a professor, lecturer, instructor or administrator (rather than a student or member of the staff), it appears that of 111 considered political donations since 2007, 108, or 97.3 percent, went to Democratic and liberal organizations. Of 41 contributors, 40, or 97.6 percent, gave to liberal groups. By dollar amount, this is $39,210 out of $39,960 in total, or about 98.1 percent. These numbers don’t exactly scream any sort of political diversity. A few Winter Study courses don’t change the fact that about 97.6 percent of the people at the College who donate to these political funds, and also organize the curriculum, teach and generally run the College, are from one major camp. As much as people can try to emphasize various points of view on campus and in classes, this homogeneity sets up a very poor foundation for that. Nevertheless, it does generally seem that problems with speakers and groups do not arise as much from faculty or administration as they do from students.
A second assumption, which seems to be more of a stereotype, is that the alumni funds available to a conservative group greatly outweigh the hypothetical funds available to other groups, perhaps more liberal ones, in the same position. It is more difficult to judge how students and alumni break down politically, but one rough estimate could be the vote on divestment last spring. Here, 70.81 percent of students who participated voted in favor of divestment and 28.44 percent voted against. Since 62.02 percent of the College voted in the referendum and there’s not much else to use, I don’t think this is a ridiculous ballpark estimate for a liberal/conservative breakdown (if someone wants to conduct an official sort of “Williams Social Survey,” I’d be interested in the results).
If this same breakdown applies to alumni, then even if conservative graduates averaged nearly two and a half times as much disposable income for donations as liberal graduates, the pool of donations available to liberal groups would still be larger due to the political discrepancy. More likely than not, a liberal group would have just as much access to funding and support. In fact, based on political donations, it seems that a liberal group could find support among faculty far more easily than its conservative counterpart. This conservative “privilege” seems to just be speculation.
Now obviously not everyone falls neatly into either a liberal or conservative camp, and party identification doesn’t determine one’s view on every issue. However, it seems that if the campus as a whole was a bit more politically fluid, we wouldn’t have such massive differences in political donations or referendum votes.
I don’t think this justifies a “conservative affirmative action,” but it seems like people could stop attacking the idea of letting a conservative speaker speak on campus, and stop attacking groups for bringing those speakers. It’s not right to assert that someone has blood on his or her hands for bringing said speaker to campus. It’s not right to assert that anti-feminist arguments are unacceptable (they’re still protected under free speech). It’s not right to assert, as one opinions piece did, that making tasteless jokes and catcalling are in the same category as discussing nationally contested issues surrounding Planned Parenthood and abortion. At Williams for Life events, when we’ve been yelled over, had our sanity questioned and had people throw temper tantrums, we didn’t categorize those as feminist arguments against us. Those are just obnoxious ways to deal with contentious topics.
Placing ideological differences in the same category as harassment is just another way to work towards censorship. Also, liberal politicians, like President Obama, and commentators, like Bill Maher, have discussed censorship at colleges – this is not something only conservatives believe happens.
I’d like to finish by sharing something that I observed at Williams for Life’s recent display on Planned Parenthood. Staff and faculty who saw the display were glad to see students discussing politics. Yet, as I mentioned, quite a few students reacted by questioning our sanity, throwing temper tantrums as they walked by and so on. There were still students who engaged with us, but the only sizable group that did so were not current students, but prospective students. Students from Windows on Williams were more than eager to respectfully talk about the contentious issues at hand. It’s unfortunate that the reaction among many current students is the exact opposite.
Matt Quinn ’17 is a mathematics major from Pawtucket, R.I. He lives in Thompson.