What's At Stake for Higher Ed in the Election?Historians in the News
tags: higher education, 2020 Election, colleges and universities
With the 2020 election approaching, amid a pandemic that shows no signs of abating, we reached out to scholars and academic leaders from across the political spectrum to ask: What’s at stake for higher education in the election?
What’s at Stake? Everything.
By Harvey J. Kaye
If Donald Trump wins re-election and the Republicans continue to hold the Senate, the class and culture wars of the past 45 years, the authoritarian initiatives of the past four years, and the tragic deaths and devastation wrought by the pandemic will intensify, alongside the further corporatization and corruption of higher education.
Memory is short, even in educational circles. So let’s recall that in the wake of the democratic surge of the long 1960s, the nation’s economic and political elites made it clear that they had had enough of the costs brought on by environmental, consumer, and labor activism and the demands of women, minorities, and poor people for social and economic improvement, of the disturbances of student protests and the arguments of the liberal media and the “value-oriented intellectuals” of the professoriate.
As the late Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington presented it on the elites’ behalf in The Crisis of Democracy (NYU Press, 1975), there was an “excess of democracy” — a “democratic distemper.” Thus commenced the campaigns by corporate bosses and their conservative and neoliberal political allies in both major parties to not only subdue the distemper, but also undo the democratic political, economic, and cultural achievements of generations.
The result has been a new plutocratic Gilded Age.
The Second Reconstruction — and the Third
Rebranding is different from progress.
By N.D.B. Connolly
The election and re-election of Barack Obama did not bring about the kind of “Reconstruction” for which many Americans had hoped. We got backlash nonetheless. The past decade or so has been awash in anti-Black violence, ever-more-inventive voter suppression, and resurgent espousals of overt white supremacy. There’s a 19th-century, post-Reconstruction feel in the air.
To push the historical parallel a bit further, one finds the American university, as in the 19th century, party to the political theater presently staged on our streets and in our chambers of governance. And it remains unclear if higher education will have a genuinely progressive role to play.
In the decades that followed Reconstruction, America’s first research universities helped fashion a vision of modern, white knowledge that blanketed over the previous generation’s North/South fissures. Places like Stanford and Johns Hopkins cultivated the Anglo Atlantic gentleman scholar. They built entire academic disciplines that trivialized the contemporaneous political problems of Black and Native American self-determination. Under the banners of “objectivity” and “science,” they reified fables about savage backwardness and the imperial frontier.
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