Last week, Scott Darnell, a well-groomed and articulate spokesman for the New Mexico Federation of College Republicans called a press conference in the UNM Student Union Building to announce the political affiliations of undergraduate professors at UNM. An accompanying pie chart revealed 83 percent of the undergraduate faculty registered to vote are Democrats, while 11 percent are Republicans.
To be sure, the event was appropriately managed, with a mic'd podium and cloth-covered easel secluding the pie chart until Darnell—a 19-year-old sophomore double-majoring in economics and political science—exposed it to the approximately 20 attendees shortly into his statement. The largest chunk of the pie was clearly claimed by the Democratic Party, and as an aside, Darnell noted that UNM fairs comparably to Harvard, which, he said, had something close to an 80 percent Democrat faculty.
"It's not a vast left-wing conspiracy," said Darnell. "It's simply a community of professors that, no matter who they turn to, have the same ideology and; therefore, they see conservatism as outside the mainstream."
The six-page press kit illuminated "extraordinary numbers concerning professors at UNM," including a 100 percent Democrat registration of faculty at the Law School, undergraduate Honors Program and School of Architecture and Planning. The Anderson School of Management came in with the lowest number, 70 percent, of the seven schools studied. The College of Arts and Sciences—90 percent Democrat, the study found.
As a result, Darnell said there is an "oppressive nature toward campus conservatives" and cited the recent vandalism of posters announcing an appearance at Popejoy Hall of Ann Coulter, a right-wing commentator and best-selling author, as proof. He said because the wide majority of undergraduate faculty "lean liberal," there is a lack of academic freedom and accountability at the university.
When asked to elaborate on how the university could become more accountable for having so many registered Democrats on the faculty, Darnell said, "It's not our problem to solve. We want to start a dialogue to make professors look at themselves. We're asking: Is the hiring process flawed?"
When asked again to clarify what he meant by accountability, Darnell said, "Accountable for what they say in the classroom and what textbooks they choose."
Should professors be asked their political party affiliation when applying to UNM?
"No," said Darnell, "but there are ways of finding out."
Why not just ask the professor-candidate during the interview? That ought to be the easiest way to find out. "That wouldn't be appropriate," Darnell said.
Interestingly, there was no supporting data to go along with the percentages.
The source for the study was not mentioned anywhere on the College Republicans' poster-sized pie chart or in the media kit given to reporters. There was no mention of a margin of error in the study, nor did the study take into account the number of undergraduate faculty that were not registered to vote or were ineligible to vote, or might have changed their party affiliation to vote in the recent Democratic presidential primary (we are not an open primary state like California). The study did not disclose how many professors were scrutinized, but it was later reported that the College Republicans looked at 895 of UNM's approximately 2,000 professors.
"I did the pie chart and didn't think I needed a source," said Darnell.
Richard Holder, UNM's deputy provost, oversees hiring of faculty. Assuming the data is correct, Holder said he was not surprised at the findings and doesn't doubt many universities have a similar profile.
Holder said political party affiliation has nothing to do with the hiring process and suggested there are other factors to consider that would make such a study more meaningful. Are there more Democrats that go to graduate school than Republicans? Are there more Democrats applying than Republicans? There could be economic reasons, meaning Republicans with doctoral degrees would rather make more money in the private sector than college professors typically earn, Holder said.
"You don't make much money in academia," Holder said, adding that the only alternative to balance the scales would be to implement some sort of affirmative action plan where Republicans are given extra favor.
"It's my understanding that is contrary to the philosophy of the people in this group," said Holder. "I'm quite satisfied that our tenure and hiring process is clean, and there is no discrimination on the grounds of political ideology. I would resist any kind of political litmus test for hiring faculty."
"We are against affirmative action," said Darnell. "I simply want people to start thinking about this."
Ambrosia Ortiz, of the UNM College Democrats, attended last week's news conference, eager to share her opinion with reporters. "People in the top bracket of intellectualism are Democrats because they realize the flaws in the Republican Party of today that's been hijacked by the right-wing religious faction," she said. "For Scott Darnell to say he's oppressed is comical to me."
In the "methods of investigation" section of the press packet, it states "the most recently updated voter vault systems—one covering Bernalillo County and the other covering the state of New Mexico—were used to determine the voter registrations of the professors at UNM."
A voter vault system?
Following the press conference, Matt Kennicott, the political director for the College Republican National Committee and a senior at UNM, said that's a database kept by the Republican National Committee. He said the data reviewed for the study did not come directly from a public source such as the County Clerk's Office.
The party affiliation of all registered voters is public record and a "walking list" of all roughly 300,000 registered voters in the county can be purchased for $4 per 1,000 names, according to a spokesperson at the County Clerk's Office. Kennicott and Darnell both said they assumed the information came from public records.
The College Republicans' press kit also states: "The methods of discovery were analyzed by numerous outside individuals so as to lend legitimacy to the objectivity of these findings."
Darnell said those outside individuals included UNM political science professor Gilbert St. Clair, Seth Heath, the secretary of the State Republican Party and Tom Carroll, the executive director of the State Republican Party.
"We operate separately from Republican Party of New Mexico," said Darnell. "They are outside sources who have dealt with the press that would be most objective."