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Paul Ryan's Alma Mater: From Miami of Ohio to GOP's Philosophical Leader

Perhaps because nearly 25% of undergraduates are business students, Miami’s population can be startlingly conservative for a large-ish public university. It hosts a wide-ranging collection of left-wing student groups, but they hardly have the run of the joint; this is a school whose student body, in a wild act of defiance, started its own credit union.

When Ohio threw its 20 electoral votes to President Obama in 2008, it’s notable that Butler County, which houses Oxford, did not. It was the American Idol election, with college students surging to the polls, and yet Miami’s enrollment of 15,000 seemed largely unimpressed. Butler yielded a 61% to 38% landslide for McCain. Meanwhile, across the state, Athens County -- home to Miami’s blood enemy, Ohio University -- was an island of blue.

Thus Miami can be, as Ryan found, fertile meeting ground for the likes of National Review. Here, he solidified an early affinity for Ayn Rand, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman. While the political press has been largely focused on his work with Jack Kemp and Ohio Governor John Kasich, Ryan was first mentored by political science professor Dr. Rich Hart. Ryan warmly thanked Hart in his 2009 Miami commencement address, affirming that “it was here where I fell in love with economics and public policy.”

Miami’s population tends to remain tightly knit, perhaps because it is strongly regional. Many students are homegrown in Ohio. Miamians tend to converge upon Oxford, then scatter right back to where they came from. Which isn’t far: the Alumni Association boasts eight chapters in Ohio, compared to just one for the entire neighboring state of Kentucky.

The university produces so many alumni marriages that these pairings are referred to as “Miami Mergers,” with the couples receiving cards from the Alumni Association on Valentine’s Day.  When a Miami Merger produces a Miami Multiplication, they pull from their cupboards the fading plastic cups they once toted to campus bars, trading one form of suds for another as they dunk them in bathwater to wash their babies’ hair.

This intimacy can produce, at times, an “us versus them” mentality. Some Miami students and alums chafe at the parenthetical (OH) the national media tends to place after the name of their school to distinguish it from the University of Miami in Florida, as though the university in Ohio were “the other one,” an extremely northern satellite campus of Coral Gables. The sensitivity is born of many decades of media flyover mentality regarding Oxford. When the AP interviewed Hart on campus, the dateline was placed as “Cincinnati,” as though the reporter were grasping for something, anything remotely resembling civilization in the form of a Nordstrom.

But if you hear Paul Ryan making far more references to the Wisconsin Badgers than the Miami RedHawks (Redskins when he was a student), it’s because Miami has performed the remarkable feat of retaining a particularly strong alumni base without a particularly strong national football or basketball program. According to US News and World Report’s annual college rankings for 2011, Miami ranks 71st nationally in alumni giving -- outperforming the University of Michigan, the University of Florida, Ohio State, the University of Texas, and the hated Ohio University.