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Joe Biden on the campaign trail

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Though the nation finds itself deeply divided, it’s clear whom employees at the nation’s higher education institutions are supporting financially in the presidential race.

According to federal elections records, those who listed their employer as a college or university have given Democratic candidate Joe Biden about $4.9 million in contributions, more than five times as much as the $890,000, including donations from for-profit college executives, that they have given President Trump.

The contributions to Biden have come widely, from about 8,800 donors, compared to the 2,800 higher education employees who want to see another four years of a Trump administration.

Even more pronounced are whom those college or university employees, who listed their occupation either as professor, instructor or teacher, are giving to. The educators have given about $2.7 million to Biden, according to Federal Election Commission records in the election cycle beginning in January 2019 -- or seven times as much as the $353,00 they have to Trump.

That those in higher education are overwhelmingly supporting Biden isn’t surprising, given that Trump’s views on climate change spurred a March for Science in 2017, his downplaying of the threat of coronavirus has angered many in the medical community and his brand of populism has been particular popular among those without a college education. Or, in the eyes of conservatives, the support for Biden reflects the dominance of liberal viewpoints on campus.

“America’s universities have become a safe haven for liberal professors to use classrooms as personal soapboxes rather than an open forum to perpetuate diversity of thought and opinion,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Courtney Parella said in a statement.

The list of institutions whose employees have given the most to Biden’s campaign is topped by major universities. Employees of the University of California system have given Biden $186,000, followed by the $152,000 donated by employees at Stanford University and the $135,000 donated by Georgetown University workers.

Illustrating the wide gap in support, employees of the top institution supporting Trump, the University of Texas system, gave only $18,000 to the president. However, University of Texas workers gave twice that much to Biden, $38,5000.

Employees at the University of Florida, though, have given more to Trump than Biden, $15,867 to $12,485. Employees at the University of Michigan, who gave $14,869, were the next highest supporter of Trump, though they gave Biden $82,000.

Employees of Full Sail University have given $14,151 in contributions to Trump, largely based on large donations from the for-profit institution’s top executives.

The Federal Election Commission data for the current election cycle, since January 2019, also revealed some regional differences. Three of the top 10 institutions where workers have contributed to Trump are in Texas. In addition to the University of Texas system, Baylor University employees have given Trump’s re-election campaign about $11,800, sixth most on the list of the president’s supporters, and Texas A&M University workers gave another $10,300, the 10th-highest amount.

Trump also has received support from employees at faith-based universities, including $10,325 from workers at Chapman University, which is connected with the Christian Church and the United Church of Christ, as well as $5,194.92 from those at Liberty University. Employees at Chapman, however, gave $8,000 to Biden. One adjunct professor at Liberty University gave Biden $10.

A number of academics on both sides have given the maximum $5,600 allowed under federal election, including Joe Donnelly, a former Democratic senator from Indiana who is teaching courses at the University of Notre Dame. David Donner, an adjunct professor in general surgery at the University of California, San Francisco, and Maureen White, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, are also among those who have given the maximum to Biden. They did not return emails seeking comment.

Those giving the maximum amount to Trump, meanwhile, include H. Swint Friday, a finance professor at Texas A&M University; Grant Wilkinson, an environmental, safety and occupational health professor at the University of Findlay, a private college in Ohio; and Michael J. Morykwas, a plastic and reconstructive surgery professor at the Wake Forest School of Medicine. Wilkinson and Morykwas didn't return emails.

Among the 10 donors from higher education who have given the maximum to Trump are James Heavener, the CEO of Full Sail, and Garry Jones, the for-profit institution’s president. The election is considered key for for-profit universities, who fear a victory by Biden would mean a return to the Obama administration’s tough regulation of the industry. Others at for-profit universities do not appear to have donated large amounts to Trump, though they may not have listed a college or university as their employer.

Heavener declined an interview last week, saying in a statement only, “I have long been interested and involved in the political process in our country and it is as important as ever to do so. I care deeply about education as a foundation for improving society. I have been a supporter of varied political candidates, including our current President, and think our country and people deserve strong representation in Washington, D.C.”

The strong support for Biden reflects a strong Democratic leaning among all education workers. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C.-based organization that tracks election and lobbying spending, 90 percent of contributions from all education workers, including those at K-12 schools, in all federal races this election have gone to Democrats. In comparison to the $117.8 million to Democrats in the presidential and congressional races, education workers have given only $12.5 million to Republicans.

Trump has played to those who believe college campuses are too liberal, including a claim that Marquette University rescinded the admission of a student, Samantha Pfefferle, because of her support for Trump -- a claim PolitiFact has found to be untrue.

In accepting the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention last month, Trump highlighted what conservatives consider to be the silencing of alternative views at liberal campuses.

“We will fully restore patriotic education to our schools and always protect -- we will always, always protect free speech on college campuses. And we put a very big penalty in if they do anything having to do with your free speech. Colleges have to pay a tremendous, tremendous financial penalty,” Trump said, referring to new Department of Education rules finalized this week, which among other things would penalize institutions for restricting free speech on campus.

To Trump’s campaign, the support for Biden is further evidence of liberal campuses.

“Joe Biden has proven he is too weak to stand up to his liberal supporters attempting to silence conservative voices, and it’s no surprise that out-of-touch Democrat professors throw money at a campaign that prioritizes teachers’ unions over the education of our children,” Parella said. “When it comes to education, Joe Biden will protect the status quo of liberal teachers and universities, while President Trump and his administration will work to ensure each and every American has access to a quality education.”

Friday, the Texas A&M professor who donated the maximum amount to Trump, also said the strong support for Biden reflects the liberal bias against conservative thought that he hasn’t experienced personally, but has heard of. “If a professor posts something pro-Trump on their door, it’s likely to be vandalized,” he said.

“Trump can be a bully but these people are worse,” he said, of liberals at colleges.

Friday, in an interview, said he is attracted to Trump in part because of his inclusion of corporate leaders like former Dune Capital Management chairman and now Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in his cabinet and Trump’s support for reducing government regulation. “The most terrifying words in the English language,” Friday said, quoting former president Ronald Reagan, “are ‘I am from the government and I am here to help.’”

Friday, who lamented the increase in spending at colleges, also criticized Biden’s support for policies like forgiving federal student debt. “How is that fair to families who worked on an oil rig to pay for their children’s education?” he said.

The Biden campaign did not return emails seeking comment. But Lorenzo Morris, professor emeritus in political science at Howard University, who has given $632 to Biden, said, “By any standard prevalent in political science, Biden is a traditional pragmatist in terms of policy and political behavior. His support on campus is linked to his well-established demonstration of that character highlighted by his role in the Obama administration. That means that a preference for him would be more traditionally liberal than ‘too’ liberal.”

In contrast, much of the Trump administration has run counter to the essence of universities. “Higher education thrives best in an environment of ethnic, racial and religious openness; one in which Trump seems neither to want nor have a place,” Morris said.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also angered many with regulations making it more difficult for campuses to penalize students or staff for sexual harassment or assault, and for making it more difficult for students defrauded by for-profit colleges to have their student loans forgiven.

“Plus,” Morris said, “every time Trump speaks, his mode of expression diminishes the value of scholarship.”

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