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Faculty withholds 2008 campaign donations

John Tierney | Monday, April 30, 2007

While potential candidates for the 2008 presidential election have already begun touring the country and making appearances at rallies and talk shows, the election frenzy has yet to reach Notre Dame.

As of Thursday, no Notre Dame professor had made any donations to any campaign, according to the Federal Election Committee (FEC). This lack of donations follows the trend observed in the 2004 presidential election, when only five Notre Dame professors and no Saint Mary’s professors donated to campaigns.

That’s a striking contrast to the behavior of faculty members at other prestigious universities, as 130 professors at Georgetown made donations in 2004, and 18 have donated already to 2008 campaigns.

Georgetown, however, could arguably be expected to display a heightened political involvement, given its location in Washington and the high number of former government officials that serve the university as professors – including the father of presidential candidate Christopher Dodd. Boston College, however, also outnumbers Notre Dame in its faculty’s political donations. In 2004, 38 Boston College faculty members donated to presidential campaigns, and seven have already donated in the current election cycle.

Additionally, at Northwestern, 115 faculty members donated for 2004 campaigns, and 20 have already donated for 2008, including 16 who are financially supporting Barack Obama’s candidacy.

Notre Dame clearly lags behind competing universities in providing monetary support to candidates, but this lack of faculty contributions to campaigns is not a sign of political apathy on campus, College Republicans president Sarah Way said.

“I believe if you were to look up the contributions that were not financial, you would see a number of professors who actually worked for campaigns,” she said.

The five Notre Dame professors that did write checks in 2004 did not lack political fervor either.

Philosophy professor Michael Detlefsen, one of four faculty members who donated to John Kerry’s campaign in 2004, was emphatic about his reasons for donating. He said he believed President George W. Bush is “incompetent and corrupt” and “easily the worst president in my voting lifetime,” and said he has been “reckless with the lives and welfare of both many Americans and many Iraqis.”

Detlefsen, however, said he had not decided yet if he would lend his financial support to a candidate in 2008.

“I may support a candidate in the next election, but I don’t know yet whether I will,” he said. “If I do, it will be someone I think is of high moral character, who will seek peace rather than war, and who will make meaningful efforts towards addressing the mounting crisis in health care in America.”

Detlefsen said he thinks it is too early to support a candidate at this point in the election cycle, but that he will not necessarily wait until the general election kicks off to donate to a campaign.

English professor Stephan Fredman, who also donated to Kerry’s campaign in 2004, said he believes that it is his civic duty to be active in politics and that he will donate to somebody in 2008.

“I don’t yet have a favored presidential candidate, though, so I will wait to donate until I find one – which may be either before or after the primary election,” Fredman said.

Way said she was not surprised by the professors’ support of the Kerry ticket.

“Notre Dame may have a general reputation as being conservative, but I am not sure this represents both the faculty and the students,” she said.

The fifth professor that made a campaign donation in 2004 to support Bush’s reelection bid, Patrick Schlitz, is no longer associated with the University.

Generally, the number of faculty members at rural colleges who donate to political campaigns – even at the local level – pales in comparison with those who donate at universities located in larger metropolitan areas, according to the FEC Web site.

It’s important faculty members stay uninvolved with political financing, Way said, since their primary job is to teach students.

“I am not surprised, nor concerned, with Notre Dame professors’ lack of donations to campaigns,” she said. “In fact, this separation from ‘party politics’ is a very good thing.”

Impartial professors make it easier for students to develop their own political opinions, she said.