Eduvation Blog

Lost Causes & Generations Yet to Come

Good morning, and TGIF!

What a week this has been… I hope you can enjoy some down time this weekend. (As for me, I’m actually gearing up for a virtual presentation to the Douglas College board tomorrow!)

You may recall that on Wednesday we explored the politicization of science, and some scientific insights into political partisanship. Today, I want to wind up the week looking at some perspectives on the ways that higher education might overcome the polarization and partisanship, and contribute to a more civil society. (Let me wear my rose-coloured glasses – it’s the weekend!)

As for the pandemic, suffice it to say that the curve continues to accelerate upwards across much of the northern hemisphere. Greece has imposed a new 3-week lockdown nationwide, starting tomorrow (which means there will be a ton of superspreader events tonight). Of course, the record 2,646 cases in Greece on Wednesday pales in comparison to the 117,000 cases recorded in the US yesterday. The curve is trending upward in most states, and we’re just 3 weeks away from (American) Thanksgiving and “Black Friday” – which will doubtless give the pandemic a BIG boost.

“This virus doesn’t care if we voted for Donald Trump, doesn’t care if we voted for Joe Biden. It’s coming after all of us.”Mike DeWine, Governor of Ohio

COVID on Campus

Grace College, in Indiana, was shocked at the sudden death of a 20-year-old psych major, whose body was found in her dorm room Friday morning. COVID19 contributed to pulmonary embolism.  New York Daily News

CdnPSE reported 12 cases of COVID19 since yesterday…

Brock U reported yesterday 2 new confirmed cases of COVID19, who have been on campus. (I count 6 cases so far this fall.)  Brock

Durham College reported on Wednesday a new confirmed “off-campus” student case of COVID19. (I think that makes 14 cases this fall.)  DC

uManitoba reports 7 confirmed cases of COVID19 on its campuses between Oct 27 and Nov 3. (Total 29 cases this fall.)  uManitoba

Red River College reported a fourth case yesterday, for someone who visited the main Winnipeg Notre Dame campus on Oct 28.  RRC

uWaterloo reported on Wednesday another confirmed case of COVID19, for someone last on campus Oct 30. (I think that makes 4 cases since Oct 1.)  uWaterloo

CdnPSE Updates

One more athletics conference and a couple of campuses accept the inevitable, Mount Royal holds a drive-in graduation event, King’s UC launches an employment guarantee, and Quebec’s CEGEPS report that student retention has actually improved this fall, despite widespread dissatisfaction with remote delivery…

Alberta College Athletics finally announced Wednesday that the extended Winter 2021 semester season of athletics is cancelled.  (Most of Canada’s PSE athletics conferences announced they were cancelling their seasons on Oct 16.)  ACAC

Canadian Mennonite U (Winnipeg) has put in-person classes on hold for 2 weeks, now that the province has declared Winnipeg a “code red” region. CMU emphasizes that they have had zero cases of COVID19 to date.  Winnipeg Free Press

Centennial College announced Wednesday that it will continue with the majority of classes being taught online during the Winter 2021 semester, “given the anticipated trajectory of the second wave of COVID19.”  Centennial

King’s UC (at Western) launched yesterday a guarantee they call “The King’s Promise,” assuring students starting in Fall 2021 “meaningful employment” within 6 months of graduation. (If it reminds you of the uRegina Guarantee, that’s because they are credited for “consultation and advice.”) King’s Promise is designed to engage students with supports and career development to help ensure their success, and offers additional courses and career prep at no cost.  King’s

Mount Royal U
(Calgary) celebrated the graduation of students with developmental disabilities from the Employment Preparation certificate program at a drive-in event in a campus parking lot, complete with big screen, broadcast sound and “honks of encouragement.”  MtRoyal

Quebec’s CEGEPs report that, despite the fact that students almost unanimously feel demotivated by distance education under the pandemic, the drop-out rate has fallen slightly this Fall compared to 2019. (2.15% at CEGEP de Granby)  Journal de Montréal

Partisan Division

The economic and medical damage of the exploding COVID19 pandemic were always going to continue no matter how the US election fell out, but racial and political conflict will only be inflamed by a bitterly contested, narrow loss…


Trumpists’ “Lost Cause”

Scott Gilmore observes that, even while ballots remain to be counted and lawsuits filed, “America’s dangerous politics and its declining place in the world are the new normal.” Assuming a narrow Biden win and a Republican Senate, he predicts that international allies will remain rattled by a close race that “made it clear that Trumpist foreign policy ideas are widely supported… Another isolationist could be elected in 2024.” Instead of depending on the US as a cornerstone of global democracy, other nations will “firewall” America to “insulate” themselves. Gilmore expects the Democrats to embrace the “dirty tricks” of the Republicans, there will be shutdowns and endless scandals and investigations, and public faith in democracy will be further undermined. Trump supporters may even embrace a “Lost Cause” mythology like the Southern Confederacy did, resenting the illegitimate government in Washington and idealizing Trump as a martyr. Political polarization will inevitably grow under a Biden administration.  Maclean’s

“Any prospects that a Biden presidency could heal the partisan divide are gone. Resentment will grow. The gap between red and blue Americans will widen. The Union will be weaker than at any other time in the last 150 years.”Scott Gilmore, Maclean’s


Higher Ed Holds its Breath

If Donald Trump is re-elected, American higher ed will face continuing challenges of anti-intellectualism, racism and xenophobia, and direct attacks from an administration that rejects scientific evidence and views academia as “politically correct and corrosive.” He would likely continue to pressure campuses to reopen despite the pandemic. On the other hand, if Joe Biden is elected president, he could undo many of Trump’s executive orders and attempt to advance policy initiatives like free tuition – but he might also return to Obama-era efforts to tie federal aid to a college ratings system. Campus communities already face heightened tension over police brutality and racial justice, pandemic health risks, and now an uncertain and contested election result. “People are just flat-out exhausted: physically, emotionally, intellectually.”  Chronicle of Higher Ed

Trusting in Science

A number of polls have found that trust in science varies according to political affiliation. But overall, a Pew Research poll this summer found that public trust in science was “as strong as ever,” confirming results back to the 1970s. 38% said they had “a lot” of trust in scientists to do what is right for the public. Confidence in medical experts has declined significantly, though, while confidence in military leaders has risen. Scientific American asks “is public trust in science enough to drive actions at a scale sufficient to effectively combat a nationwide emergency like that of a pandemic? The answer seems to be ‘no.’”  Scientific American

Human Interconnectedness

Clearly we need to improve the scientific literacy of the general public, but many have also emphasized the need to instill more liberal arts principles as well…

What Makes a Good Life?

Carleton prof Shawna Dolansky encourages students to consider the humanities, and assures parents that “employment prospects don’t need to come at the expense of happiness.” Skills that the future labour market will most demand – judgement, critical thinking, cultural awareness, social perceptiveness – are developed in the humanities. But perhaps more importantly, “we have a dearth of engaged and empathetic citizens and leaders capable of critical thought and reflection on ethics and humanistic values.” STEM skills are obviously essential, but “humanities make scientists better at their work.” At the core of humanistic thought is the question, “what makes a good life?” In pondering answers to that question, and developing their own, young people learn about themselves and uncover happiness and meaning.  Ottawa Citizen

Leading the Pandemic Recovery

Although initially the pandemic concentrated research funding in medical research, “as we enter Act Two, attention has shifted towards the societal and economic impact of COVID19. Humanities and Social Sciences researchers can play a leading role here, to inform and shape the recovery,” write 4 researchers at uManchester. H&SS researchers bring “deep knowledge of how cultures, societies and economies function,” and are already examining cultures of misinformation and the impacts of the pandemic on front-line healthcare workers. “Addressing the scale of the challenges created by COVID19 will require complex, large-scale projects with interdisciplinary solutions at their core… Universities as anchor institutions can guide the recovery precisely because of the breadth of expertise they bring.”  Higher Education Policy Institute

A Global Ethical Perspective

The pandemic underscores just how tightly interwoven our world has become. From the Black Death and Smallpox to COVID19, “each time humanity takes bold steps toward deeper integration, disease follows.” Higher ed benefits from the pooling of cultures, knowledge, innovation and technology, from research collaboration and international student mobility. But our interconnected world also accelerates threats like “misinformation, warped ideologies and hatred.” Instead of viewing ethics from a personal perspective, we need to consider our obligations at the level of global humanity: our actions, through nuclear war, genetic engineering, or climate change, pose existential threats. We need an ethical lens that considers “the hundred billion people who came before us, the nearly 8 billion alive today, and the countless generations yet to be born.” As a species, humanity is still in its adolescence: “we can be impulsive and careless, seizing the short-term benefits but neglecting the long-term costs.” We need to grow up fastWorld Economic Forum

Higher Ed’s Role

A great deal has been written about the role of educational institutions in society, and certainly at this pivotal time of crisis and turbulence. Here are just a few recent angles worth considering…

Educating the Masses

In response to the 2008 recession, many countries saw “arrested social mobility” because of the “stripping away of liberal institutions.” We now have generations too young to remember fascism or communism, and lacking the historical education to know the mistakes we don’t want repeated. Populists in the US and UK resent “elites” and the way universities “reproduce social class” in a form of “educational incest.” Perhaps Oxford, Cambridge and the Ivy League need to expand elite education to the masses, argues a Harvard fellow, to undermine populism. Perhaps they should be forced to admit millions of students. We need to “treat higher education as a free market but to make sure it is a market for education, research and skills and not buying, packaging and reselling social class.”  Times Higher Ed

Facilitating Constructive Dialogue

Higher education cherishes its tradition of scholarly debate, of tolerating dissenting opinions and benefiting from diverse perspectives. We know it contributes to innovation and creativity, and often results in breakthrough scientific findings or new syntheses of previous ideas. Amidst a contentious election, say the president and law dean at the College of William & Mary, “this is a vital time to reinforce… how our communities can effectively navigate deep conflict.” As anxieties run high, campus leaders should provide “spaces for expressions of emotions, perspectives, hopes and fears” and “outlets for people to exhale and be heard.” But to facilitate constructive dialogue across ideological divides, we need to ensure everyone shares values of mutual respect, and emphasize our interdependence and common humanity. We must fight the tendence to dehumanize our opponents, and educate our students about “information hygiene.” Fake news is not new; it grew along with the proliferation of printing centuries ago too. Academia’s practices of evidence-based argument, peer review, and errata evolved to address that risk. Our students will be the generation that helps design technological solutions to address misinformation at scale in a digital age. “If we double down on principles of meaningful civil discourse, evidence-based argument and rehumanization, we will be able to move forward together once this election has passed.”  Inside Higher Ed


Thanks for reading! (Pretty heavy stuff for first thing in your morning – and last thing in my night.)

Here’s to a great weekend.  Stay safe and be well!


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