The 2012 presidential election, which cost more than $2 billion, was the most expensive in American history — and Penn State professors were among those who gave their dollars with the hopes of seeing their candidate get elected.
In financial contributions, Penn State professors showed a preference for President Barack Obama over former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Of donors who identified Penn State as their employer, 82 professors made individual contributions to the candidates’ respective political committees, according to the FEC. Seven of those professors donated to Romney for President, while 75 donated to Obama for America, according to the filings.
Faculty Senate Chair Larry Backer wrote in an email that there should be a “strong and clear distinction” between a professor’s personal opinion and the university’s official stance. Nonetheless, professors should still be able to engage in the political process, he said.
“Political expression is at the heart of the fundamental rights on which this Republic was established and a core duty of citizenship since the founding in the 18th century,” Backer wrote. “This is an obligation we should all take seriously. Employment status should not disbar a citizen from exercising her basic political rights.”
According to FEC filings, donors who identified Penn State as their employer and who are professors gave $66,201 to Obama for America. They gave $6,000 to Romney for President, according to the filings.
Only donations of more than $200 per election cycle to an individual party or candidate are reported, according to the FEC — which means the FEC does not provide records for professors who made smaller donations.
Faculty contributions to either candidate don’t necessarily reflect how professors voted, said Ellen Dannin, Fannie Weiss Distinguished Faculty Scholar and Penn State Professor of Law. Dannin donated to Obama for America between February and August 2012.
Russell Johns, Penn State professor of petroleum and natural gas engineering, donated to Romney for President this July, according to FEC filings. He said a lot of the professors he talks about politics with are concerned about social issues and helping people in the here and now.
Johns said he understands their desire to help, but he looks at the future.
“Those who are 18 or 20 are going to have a huge debt to pay back,” Johns said. “We have gone nuts over the debt. In the end, you cannot take the extra cash that we don’t have and keep spending it, because eventually you do run out of money.”
Dannin said she financially backed Obama, because she thought his positions were better for the country than Romney’s. She was concerned about Romney’s positions on the financially disadvantaged and women’s issues, she said.
Dannin said she keeps her political views out of the classroom, though.
“I never talk to my students about my preferences,” Dannin said. “I try to be very, very even-handed in my classes.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.