College Democrats

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Although all of the presidents elected over the past three decades from both parties have won election or reelection with about half of the popular vote, on American campuses, veterans of Democratic presidential administrations outnumber officials who served in Republican cabinets by lopsided margins.

Taking the last four presidents and getting updates on what their cabinet officials are doing now, we find that Carter Administration officials working as professors or administration officials are nearly three times as visible on college campuses as those who held executive branch positions under the first President George Bush. Making this comparison leaves us measuring apples against apples as both presidents served one term and lost their reelection bids by landslides in a three-way races.

When we play the “Whatever became of…?” game with Reagan and Clinton officials, the results are even starker. Clinton Administration officials in lecture halls and college administration offices outpoll Reaganites by 13 to 3, exactly.

These results, moreover, track with surveys of professors’ political affiliations and outlooks compiled by the Center for Popular Culture that show the ratio in academia of liberals and Democrats to conservatives and Republicans ranges from three to one to nine to one. Despite the presence on elite campuses of notables such as Jeanne Kirkpatrick, President Reagan’s UN ambassador, odds are, you are more likely to find familiar Democrats in faculty lounges than you are standard bearers for the Grand Old Party.

Put another way, nearly half of the officials President Clinton appointed to his cabinet left the lame duck administration for jobs in academia. Less than one-tenth of all of President Reagan’s appointees left public office for college payrolls.

Retired Republican officials are more likely to be found as college or university trustees but are still outnumbered by Democratic bureaucrats in boardrooms. Even losing Democratic presidential candidates are more likely to put in an appearance in a lecture hall than unsuccessful GOP standard bearers. For example, Former Sen. George McGovern, who carried one state against Richard Nixon in 1972, has taught at both the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

The primary reason given for the imbalance by both academics and even Republicans themselves is that GOPers elect to go into other, more lucrative, ventures. Perhaps. But we’ve also heard that it is the kiss of death in academia to have worked at the Department of Education in a Republican Administration.

It certainly didn’t hurt the first Secretary of Education under a Democratic president. Following her time in the Carter administration, Shirley Hufstedler returned to her law practice and taught as a visiting professor at the University of California at Irvine; she then did likewise at the University of Iowa and the University of Vermont. Hufstedler was the Phleger Professor of Law at the Stanford School of Law (1982) and in 1996 became a Visiting Fellow of St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, England.

Also, conservative college professors who have gone through the process tell us that Search committees on campus are difficult for right leaning academics to get past. Not that our galaxy of cabinet secretaries would have to run this gauntlet. Big names from government are more likely to be sought after than seeking and less likely to get their jobs through want ads. Still, two questions suggest themselves, as Election Day nears:

1.) How many survivors of the Kerry campaign will wind up on college campuses? Or, alternatively…

2.) How many officials in this Bush Administration are likely to be on any Ivory Tower wish list? It looks like there are three token slots they can vie for. (Please see chart below).

Cabinet officials in academia (by administration)



Bush (41)






Source: College and University web sites

Michele Nagar provided the research for this report. A rising freshman at the University of Maryland, Michele was an intern this summer at Accuracy in Academia.