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Campus Technology Units Are Where Democrats and Republicans Come Together

How higher ed IT challenges the traditional campus liberal-bias narrative.

November 11, 2018
 
 

The appearance of Dan Crenshaw with Pete Davidson this past weekend on Saturday Night Live was jarring for its unusualness.  Crenshaw is the newly elected Republican representative from Texas. S.N.L. is not the first place that you’d expect to find a newly elected House Republican.

The accepted wisdom is that most college campuses are like S.N.L. That the campus liberal bias is so strong that a congenial appearance combining someone from the right and the left is a newsworthy event.

My two decades in higher ed, combined with what I’ve read, largely confirms the stereotype. While there are variations by institutional type and geography, the people who work in higher ed lean towards voting Democrat.

Except, perhaps, in campus technology units.

I’ve not seen any research, so any conclusions about the political leanings of higher ed technologists should be taken as a hypothesis.

What I can say is that in the years that I worked in higher ed technology organizations that my colleagues were considerably more politically diverse than when I was a professor. And more politically diverse than what I see now within the educational developer / CTL (center for teaching and learning) profession.

It is not that people who work in higher ed technology spend their days talking about politics. The subject almost never comes up.

What you do learn when you work with the people who run campus IT security, administrative computing, and in areas such as networking and systems administration is not to assume that everyone votes in the same way.

Campus IT units draw more heavily on professionals with military backgrounds than do other higher ed professions. Technical training is strong among in the armed forces, and recent veterans lean more Republican than older ones.  

For various reasons that I’m not sure I understand, technology jobs also seem to attract those with more libertarian orientations.

I came to see the ideological diversity among higher ed technology professionals as a gift.

Political differences had zero impact on the ability of IT people to collaborate, and with others around campus.

When you work closely with Republicans and Democrats, you learn that how someone votes have no predictive value for their collegiality, competence, dedication, and skills. There are no liberal or conservative ways of collaborating on a team or leading an IT project.

My politically conservative IT colleagues have been devoted to the idea of higher ed as an engine of opportunity as those colleagues on the left.

The people who I’ve worked with in campus technology units who are staunch Republicans and committed Democrats have been generous, compassionate, and collaborative. Or they have been narrow-minded and selfish and difficult to work with. Membership in a political party, or leaning towards one ideology or another, has never been predictive of a successful career in higher ed IT.

We live in an age of extreme partisanship. Of The Big Sort and Fox News and MSNBC. The divide between left and right seems bigger than ever.

But when Republicans and Democrats work together so seamlessly, as I’ve seen in higher ed IT, the divide does not seem that big. There is a sense of common purpose that transcends political divisions within the higher education technology profession.

I suspect that the rest of the country resembles campus technology units more than it resembles Fox and MSNBC. People with different political orientations work together more than we acknowledge, and party affiliation matters less than we think it does when at work. Even when that workplace is a university.

The world of higher ed IT should also give anyone pause before making sweeping statements about political bias in higher ed. IT professionals are just as much a part of the larger higher ed community as anyone else.

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