Two Visions of Higher Education Illuminate the Chasm between Harris and PenceRoundup
tags: higher education, HBCUs, Howard University, Mike Pence, Liberty University, Kamala Harris, colleges and universities
Marybeth Gasman is the Samuel DeWitt Proctor endowed chair in education & distinguished professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University. She is also the author of Educating a Diverse Nation (Harvard University Press, 2015) and Envisioning Black Colleges (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).
Adam Laats is professor of education at Binghamton University (SUNY) and author of Fundamentalist U. and The Other School Reformers.
In their debate last night, Sen. Kamala D. Harris and Vice President Pence disagreed on just about everything, clashing over coronavirus policy, their respective records and even the history of Supreme Court nominations. One way to help understand the sharp divisions between the two campaigns comes from a surprising source: the history of higher education in the United States.
In her speech at the Democratic Convention, Harris made sure that the audience knew she had attended Howard University, a historically Black college and university (HBCU) and was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., which was founded at Howard in 1908. Harris has talked extensively about the school’s impact on her life: who she is as a person, a Black and Asian woman and leader. It was her alma mater that shaped many of her political views.
Pence, on the other side, attended Hanover College. Publicly, however, his closest link during his vice presidency has been to Liberty University. Pence has done everything he can to highlight that connection. He delivered a commencement speech at Liberty in 2019, asking the audience to consider him more than just a politician courting their support; he urged them to think of him as a “brother in Christ” and a champion of their values. The vice president also took pains to showcase his close, friendly relationship with former Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr., posing for smiling photos together.
Why have Harris and Pence made such public moves to associate themselves with Howard and Liberty? Especially since the GI Bill following World War II, there has not been one system of higher education in the United States, but many. Like the rest of American society, higher education has splintered and divided, as colleges and universities promote themselves as embodying different visions of what higher education should be, with unique experiences and cultures.
Ties to Howard and Liberty then — a HBCU and a conservative, religious institution — send clear messages to voters about what values each campaign represents and to whom the candidates are appealing.
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