When did higher education become partisan?

Historians in the News
tags: education, higher education



When did higher education become a partisan issue?

Historians Ed Ayers (@edward_l_ayers) and Nathan Connolly (@ndbconnolly) say the history of colleges and universities is intrinsically tied to conflict and difference of opinion. Here & Now's Lisa Mullins speaks with Ayers and Connolly, co-hosts of the podcast BackStory, which is produced at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

On how long higher education has been a partisan issue in America

Nathan Connolly: "It's important to keep in mind that colleges are older than the country itself, that they're older than any business. And they have been fraught with conflicts of various kinds. You have gentlemen scholars and kind of hardcore intellectuals. You have, obviously, the conflicts that arose around the incorporation of women and people of color in the 19th century. Even whether or not someone would study classics or vocations became a site of bitter contest.

"To really appreciate where we are with the narrative and the headlines now, you have to understand that conflict is built in to the enterprise of higher education. I think it's also important to bear in mind that what we're seeing is really a 20th-century story insofar as, most people didn't need college to enter the middle class, or didn't believe they needed college to enter the middle class, and so you're going to get fresh conflicts and really, stark divides around what it simply means to be a member of the middle class in America revolving around colleges and universities."

Ed Ayers: "There's all these different layers of conflict and of continuity and change. I think the real origins of all of this lie after World War II, when American higher education was transformed by the GI Bill, and then 15, 20 years later by the integration of women who now account for the majority of college students, which is a very rapid change. And by the incorporation of people from all different kinds of ethnic backgrounds, financial aid. What you're seeing is kind of a partisan overlay over a big cultural divide, over a fundamental economic and demographic transition. So it's got as many elements as you can imagine." ...





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