Biology professor balances campaigning, teaching

Riley Guerzini, News Editor

Edie Hardcastle is looking to turn her political activism into political action.

The associate professor of biology is running to replace Republican incumbent Jim Tomes for the District 49 seat in the Indiana Senate. Tomes has held the seat since 2010 and neither candidate currently has a primary opponent.

District 49 is located in the southwest corner of the state and is composed of Posey County, five townships in Gibson County and eight townships in Vanderburgh County.

Hardcastle said she will continue to teach 12 credit hours this semester, which includes two lectures and four labs.

She said she has been able to balance her political activism and teaching for the past year through her work as president of Indivisible Evansville, a chapter of the national Indivisible movement which whose mission is to “fuel a progressive grassroots network of local groups to resist the Trump Agenda,” according to their website. She is also a member of the nation’s largest environmental organization, the Sierra Club.

“It’s been a year-long political boot camp,” she said. “It’s been an amazing experience to meet with people across Evansville and the district and we have formed a coalition of people who want to bring change to the area.”

The university’s rules on employees running for public office say that “In order to avoid jeopardizing the University’s tax-exempt status, computer facilities and services may not be used for personal financial gain or in connection with political activities, without prior written approval in each instance.”

According to the USI Handbook, employees who participate in political activities, support or become candidates must do so as individuals and cannot use the university name, facilities or involve the school in any way with political activities.

“It is assumed that all members of the staff may exercise their rights as citizens, may affiliate with and be active in the political party of their choice, and as individuals may support candidates, parties or governmental measures as they desire,” the handbook states. “The university, as a public educational institution, must necessarily be nonpartisan in all of its political and governmental relationships and does not support any political party or candidate for public office.”

Political parties or organizations are allowed to use university facilities for meeting purposes on a rental basis, but it may not in any way imply the school sponsors or supports the organization’s purposes or programs.

“Edie is part of what we are seeing across the country there is an awakening of people of science in particular who have stayed away from public jobs and I would hope that she would bring more of that analytical demeanor depending on facts and making decisions that are data driven that have appropriate levels of research behind them,” he said.

Summers said he has worked with Hardcastle for 12 years.

As a department chair, he said he is able to work with her to put together a schedule that is more conducive to her to be able to campaign.

Hardcastle’s faculty contract requires her to teach 12 credit hours each semester. Summers said he can spread the teaching load out in a variety of ways including giving her a heavier schedule in the fall and lighter schedule in the spring.

“We can spread the load out in some pretty creative ways so that they still meet their contract, but yet still have some flexibility in scheduling if that would be something she would want to do,” he said.

Summers said her experience goes further than her education and she understands what impacts families in the region from being a mom and wife.

“I think she’s in it for the right reason,” he said. “She is genuinely concerned about the climate in politics and I think she will be helpful in that regard.”

Hardcastle said she wants to prioritize making college more affordable by initiating more scholarship programs and keeping tuition from rising.

“When I went to college it was much less expensive,” she said. “As professors, we have to expect that our students are working at least part-time jobs. Education is the foundation of our future. We have to start investing more in our schools in order to prepare students for the workforce.”

The United States has a history of educators running for political office. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) was a professor at Harvard Law School before being elected in 2012. President Obama taught at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years before becoming an Illinois state senator in 1997.

In Indiana, former adjunct law professor Pat Hackett (D) is running to become the Democratic nominee for Indiana’s 2nd congressional district. Andrew Takami (R) is the former director of the Purdue Polytechnic New Albany and is currently running for U.S. Senate.

Hardcastle said the most difficult part of her campaign will be raising enough money to compete with her Republican counterparts and the legislators are listening to their big donors instead of their constituencies.

“We are never going to have as much money as the Republicans,” she said. “No large corporations are going to donate to us so as a result, we have to work harder and smarter.”

The Indiana primary for state senate will be held May 8. It is an open primary which means voters are not required to declare party affiliation, so they can vote for whatever party they want. The general election is scheduled for Nov. 6.