The United States and with it higher education are facing a truly momentous 2020 presidential election. In its response to the public issues of our time, especially global climate change and then the national and global handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Trump administration has challenged research, the scientific method, rationality and the truth. Another casualty is the basic norms of political democracy, where Trump is attempting to undermine the public health option of postal voting so as to secure a win in November. The president has directly attacked the universities on numerous occasions, threatened them with loss of federal funds and tried to use immigration law to force them to remain open for face to face teaching regardless of health and safety. The political right in the US now presents the university as an ‘ideological’ institution, a radical liberal institution, not a source of knowledge, evidence, and intellectual contest in service of the public sphere. This political ‘reimagining’ of the American university has dire consequences, especially if Trump is re-elected, but will be familiar to scholars of higher education in many other national contexts.
The re-election of a Trump government would likely lead to a student loans system more closely tailored to the lending companies rather than student interests and a surge in federal financial support for the for-profit college sector. The administration’s favouritism of some states over others (e.g. Texas and Florida vs. California and New York) could have large implications for federal and state support of higher education going forward. Election outcomes will also bear major implications for the struggle against racism in the US including the Black Lives Matter movement which has been a potent touchstone across the world and among other non-white groups in the US, including Asian Americans. The politics of racism on and off campus is shaping the political terrain city by city and house by house. In some states Republican governments have used racist policies on higher education to marshal support for the Republican party in the lead up to the election. Our three speakers will open up this extraordinary time in the US and invite your questions, discussion and debate.