Cornell’s employees gave over $900,000 in political donations throughout this election cycle — just $12,775 of that went to Republican candidates and conservative political action committees.
Democratic candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden, and left-leaning PACs received the remainder: $913,064 a significant difference in the political balance of the University’s employees.
The Sun reviewed the last two years of public filings with the Federal Elections Commission from individuals who self-reported Cornell University as their employer — professors, custodians, student-workers and dishwashers, among the many other University jobs both on and off East Hill. That totaled just over 28,000 individual contributions. Employees at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Cornell’s Qatar campus were not included in The Sun’s analysis.
President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign amassed $5,033 from 65 contributors, while Biden received $118,859 from 891 contributors.
From faculty alone, left-leaning candidates and groups received $402,605 to conservative-leaning candidates’ and groups’ $2,377.
Of the eight undergraduate colleges and Cornell’s graduate schools — Cornell Law School, the College of Veterinary Medicine and the S.C. Johnson College of Business — the College of Arts and Sciences tallied the largest portion of donations with $110,492, just under 12 percent of the total sum of donations.
Within the College of Arts and Sciences, the English department donated the most with a notable $33,150 sum. Following the English department, nine other departments were included in the top 10 department donations including government, history, German studies, music and Near Eastern studies.
In the race for New York’s 23rd congressional district, The Sun’s analysis did not find any donations to Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) from Cornell employees. His challenger, Tracy Mitrano J.D. ’95 received 219 donations, totaling $48,596. The race is considered safe for Reed –– it’s rated “Solid R” by the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan elections forecaster.
Claudia Wheatley, spokesperson for the Mitrano campaign, said she believes the donations were less suggestive of broad political leanings among staff, but rather signaled support for actual policy positions affecting higher education.
“It’s possible some Cornell faculty aren’t backing him because they feel he hasn’t earned their support,” Wheatley wrote.
Cornell employees also looked east to New York’s 22nd Congressional District, donating $9,363 to the reelection campaign of House freshman Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.). The Sun did not uncover any donations from Cornell employees to challenger Claudia Tenney, who held the seat before she was ousted in the 2018 midterms.
Only four professors donated to Trump’s reelection campaign and Republican groups since the 2018 midterm elections: Physics Profs. Thomas Arias and Andre Leclair both donated to Trump’s campaign, while Prof. John Schimenti, genetics, and Prof. John Barwick, history, donated to WinRed, the Republican party’s equivalent of ActBlue. Barwick declined to comment on the record, and the other three did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.
Ithaca has long been considered a bastion of progressive support in the largely conservative upstate New York region. An analysis of FEC donations by The New York Times found that since April, Biden raised an estimated $610,248 in the 14850 zip code, while Trump brought in only $38,457.
The Sun’s data only includes individuals who donated over $200 over a calendar year, per FEC regulations that require the identification of these donors — a notable exception being ActBlue and WinRed, which are both required as conduits to report every donation under federal law.
It may make sense why ActBlue, a donations-processing site created in 2004 that channels online donations to Democratic candidates, received the most donations in the examined FEC filings — 23,557, accruing more than $420,000. The candidates supported by ActBlue donations are initially shielded from view on individual contribution FEC filings; information about to whom donations went is earmarked inside the individual filing.
Cornell’s liberal make-up of faculty and staff is nothing new. A similar analysis conducted by The Sun in 2018 found that 99.5 percent of donations went to left-leaning PACs and political candidates that year. A total of $289,975 political donations were made that year by self-reported employees of the University.
In 2015, a data project by The Sun found that from 2011 to 2014, out of the nearly $600,000 Cornell’s faculty donated to political candidates and parties, 96 percent went to Democrats.
Notwithstanding contributions made through ActBlue, this cycle, a plurality of individual donations to Democratic primary candidates were made to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — he received 1,054 individual contributions. Succeeding Sanders were 891 donations made to Biden, 456 to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and 55 to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
But this cycle’s donation sum dwarfs both the 2018 and 2015 analyses: Cornell’s self-reported employees donated nearly $1 million over two years.
Conservative media outlets and politicians readily assail the Ivy League and other elite universities as inherently biased against conservative beliefs. Trump mused on Twitter in July about revoking tax exemptions for higher education.
Prof. William Jacobson, law, remarked on The Sun’s findings, referring to his fellow faculty as “an intolerant echo chamber in which differing and dissenting political opinions are not welcome,” Jacobson wrote. “This lack of faculty intellectual and political diversity is a reality ignored by the university administration in its various diversity initiatives.”
Across the nation, university staff similarly tilt blue. At the University of Pennsylvania, professors spent about 100 times more on Biden’s campaign than Trump, found a similar analysis of over 5,600 donations from faculty by the student paper, The Daily Pennsylvanian. Down south at Emory University in Atlanta, “members of the Emory community” heavily backed Democrats — a February analysis by The Emory Wheel showed that Trump received 58 contributions while Democratic primary candidates received 1,276.
A 2017 Gallup survey found that 21 percent of Republicans attributed their skepticism of higher education to colleges not allowing “students to think for themselves” and believe that colleges “are pushing their own political agenda,” the survey said. A new Pew Research Center survey found that the share of Americans who think colleges and universities negatively affect the country has increased dramatically — nearly twofold — in the past decade.
This distrust of academia emanates almost exclusively from Republicans and independents who lean Republican. Support for higher education remained consistent among Democrats.
Roughly 8 in 10 Republicans surveyed by Pew said professors bringing their political and social views into the classroom is a major reason why the higher education system is headed in the wrong direction. (Only 17 percent of Democrats say the same.)
In a statement to The Sun, University spokesperson John Carberry reaffirmed the diversity in Cornell’s academic and intellectual community when presented with an initial conclusion of The Sun’s findings.
“Cornell University is committed to academic excellence and a core belief that learning flourishes in an environment where diverse ideas are presented and debated without hindrance,” the statement read. “We are a community where all voices may be heard and where the dignity of all individuals is protected.”
Amanda H. Cronin ’21 and Johnathan Stimpson ’21 contributed reporting.
This piece is part of The Cornell Daily Sun’s Election 2020 Section. The section can be contacted at [email protected]
Correction, Oct. 29, 12:20 p.m.: A previous version of this article inaccurately referenced Melissa Ceriale as the largest donor to Democratic candidates among Cornell faculty and staff. The University confirmed that Ceriale is neither a faculty member nor an employee of Cornell. Any reference to Ceriale has since been removed.