Eduvation Blog

Biden Time: What Changes Tomorrow

Good morning!

Plenty has happened in the past month to reshape the future for higher education in Canada and around the world. I’ve spent the past 5 issues on the pandemic and how things are shaping up for Fall 2021 – but that wasn’t even the biggest health story of 2020! (The CDC insists it was mosquitoes.)

Here in Canada, we’re acutely aware that the winds of American politics sweep across the globe, and impact many aspects of life elsewhere. Comedian Robin Williams famously observed that Canada is “like a really nice apartment over a meth lab.” Well, tomorrow there’s a moving van pulling up and we’re getting new neighbours in that downstairs apartment. (But our apartment is going to start looking less nice by comparison.)

Although the presidential election was Nov 3, it took months before the world had much confidence that the result would stick – and for millions of Americans, it still doesn’t. Hopefully we can get through the inauguration tomorrow with minimal violence, insurrection and upheaval…

I say things changed in the past month because really, everything changed once more with the senate run-off elections in Georgia on Jan 5. Prior to that, Joe Biden looked like a fresh face whose hands would be tied by a Republican-controlled Senate. Suddenly, 2 weeks ago, it became clear that the Democrats will control both chambers of Congress and the White House. While the largely Trump-appointed Supreme Court may still undermine his efforts, Joe Biden has the potential to advance a lot more policy change now, at least for the next 2 years.

So today I want to take a look at what tomorrow’s inauguration will mean for higher education, not just in the US but in Canada and around the world…

“We have these transformational moments, these historical pivots, maybe once in a generation. Biden and Harris do not have all the votes they need to enact the progressive agenda, but they have the opportunity to pass legislation that can shape the post-pandemic economic recovery in a way that can be transformational.”Timothy Naftali, History and Public Policy, New York University


Pandemic Response


The transition team has made it clear that president-elect Joe Biden plans to sign “roughly a dozen” executive orders on Wednesday afternoon, following his inauguration, and dozens more in the following 10 days. His top priority is to deal with COVID19…

COVID19: On Day 1, Biden will bring the US back into the World Health Organization, and launch his “100-Day Masking Challenge,” making facemasks mandatory on federal property and during any interstate travel. He will also focus $20B of federal resources on coordinating vaccine distribution and vaccinations, “one of the most challenging operational efforts every undertaken by our country.” FEMA and the National Guard will be mobilized to thousands of vaccination sites, and Biden promises to vaccinate 100 million Americans in his first 100 days. A further $50B will go towards COVID19 testing, and $130B to retrofit schools, since we’ll be living with this pandemic for a while yet.  New York Times

Travel Restrictions: On Monday (for some reason) Trump ordered an end to the ban on travellers from Europe and Brazil, set for Jan 26. Biden intends to rescind that order on Wednesday, and to “strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of Covid19.”  New York Times

Healthcare: In the early days, Biden will reopen and promote the Affordable Care Act insurance marketplaces, allowing Americans to sign up for Obamacare over more than just 6 weeks in December and January. Biden has been opposed to Medicare-for-all, a single-payer system more like Canadians enjoy. Washington Post

American Rescue Plan: Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion package of economic stimulus and pandemic relief, which will need the support of every Democrat in the Senate to pass. It includes $400B for vaccine deployment, $350B for state and local governments, and $1,400 direct payments to individuals – along with more unemployment benefits, paid leave for workers, and subsidized childcare.  New York Times

“Millions of Americans are still hurting through no fault of their own. The basic story is simple: if we don’t act now, things are going to get much worse and harder to get out of the hole later, so we have to invest now.”Joe Biden, US President-Elect


We can only hope that Biden’s administration is able to bring the explosive pandemic under control in the US, and that more rational thinking will prevail among the public worldwide. Improved healthcare options in the US could eventually contribute to making it more attractive to international students and faculty. Canada’s attractions may wane, and the brain drain may resume.


Global Citizenship

Biden has made it clear that he intends to tone down Trump’s “America First” policies, re-engage with international organizations, and regard foreign countries as potential partners rather than competitors…

Environment: On Day 1, Biden will rejoin the Paris Climate Accord (which should be good news for most of the planet), restore protection for national monuments, and reverse Trump’s orders to undermine environmental protections – but he will also cancel the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline – with major implications for Canada, and especially Alberta. (Reportedly Justin Trudeau raised the issue on his congratulatory phone call to Biden after the election.) Biden has issued a $1.7 trillion Clean Energy Revolution plan that includes heavy investments in green technology. Congress is expected to pass clean energy legislation to promote zero-emissions electricity and discourage the use of fossil fuels. New York Times

Keystone XL is what Canadian media will be discussing on Wednesday, of course (assuming nobody burns down the Capitol or sets off a nuke). The impact will be at least 2,000 pipeline construction jobs in Alberta, an even more diminished energy sector in that province, and a political liability for Alberta premier Jason Kenney, who made what Rachel Notley calls a “massive gamble” on Keystone XL, investing $1.5B and providing even more loan guarantees. The environmental benefits will also be tangible, though. Improving emissions targets, funding for the green energy sector, and tightening pollution restrictions will all have spillover effects on Canadian companies and regulations.

Immigration: On Day 1, Biden will issue a proclamation terminating the “border wall emergency,” ordering agencies to reunite children separated from their families at the border, and he will introduce legislation to create an 8-year path to citizenship for ~11M undocumented immigrants. Those who arrived as children, the “Dreamers,” will have an even shorter path, and the legislation also provides grants for workforce development and ESL. Biden will also reverse Trump’s “Muslim bans.” Globe & Mail

Again, the US will immediately seem more welcoming to international students and faculty, and millions of illegal residents will find it much easier to pursue PSE. Regional universities and community colleges will benefit from enrolment and funding growth, strengthening the system. Eventually, the US will even start to regain some market share of international students, becoming tougher competition for Canadian and Australian/New Zealand institutions.


Civil Rights


Just yesterday, the Trump administration demonstrated once again its deep roots in white supremacy, issuing a racist school curriculum report on – of all days! – Martin Luther King Jr Day. There can be little doubt that the Biden administration will be good news for equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives of all kinds…

LGBTQ Rights: Biden publicly announced his support for same-sex marriage in 2012, even before president Obama did, and he has called transgender rights “the civil rights issue of our time.” He helped found a campaign to advocate for family acceptance of transgender children in 2018. On Day 1, Biden will rescind the ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, and he will reverse Trump policies regarding homeless shelters, anti-bias training, students, and religious rights exemptions for discrimination. A priority in his first 100 days will be to pass the 2019 Equality Act, which was blocked in the Republican-led senate. Washington Post

Title IX prohibits sex discrimination at federally-funded institutions, but 10 days ago the Trump administration ordered that it does not protect LGBTQ students. The Betsy DeVos memo, which contradicts recent rulings by Federal Appeals Courts and the Supreme Court, insists that “sex” should only be interpreted to mean “biological sex, male and female.” Biden’s new Education Secretary is expected to rescind the last-minute guidance within days. Inside Higher Ed

Decriminalizing Marijuana: There is growing bipartisan support to legalize marijuana across the US, and so far 15 states have legalized it, while 36 others permit the use of medicinal marijuana. Federally, though, it remains illegal – posing risks to users and suppliers, and preventing its shipment across state lines. Kamala Harris said in the October VP debate that the Biden-Harris administration would decriminalize marijuana, and expunge the records of those previously convicted. Washington Post

Worker Rights: On Day 1, Biden will also halt federal executions, and restore the rights of government workers to unionize. He is expected to raise the minimum wage and lobby for worker sick leave and benefits. (And see gig workers, below.)

“President-elect Biden will take action — not just to reverse the gravest damages of the Trump administration — but also to start moving our country forward.”Ron Klain, President-Elect Biden’s Chief of Staff


Again, while we must cheer the civil rights advances (or at least, recovery) in the US, the impacts on CdnPSE and higher ed in the UK and Australia will be less positive. Whether competing for students, faculty or researchers, the US will gradually become more attractive. (Although the razor-thin margin of this election may give many people pause.)


Curbing Capitalism

As the Biden cabinet and a Democrat-led Congress gather momentum, considerable change is expected beyond that initial flurry of executive orders…

Big Tech Reckoning: Biden and the Democrats have been intensely critical of Facebook since the 2016 election, when the Kremlin hacked the election using social media tactics. Similar misinformation helped fuel the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan 6, and “the aftermath of that attack now sets the stage for a political reckoning between Washington and Silicon Valley, as long-simmering frustrations with Facebook, Google, Twitter and their digital peers threaten to unleash the most aggressive regulatory assault against the tech industry in its history.” Expect new regulation on big tech monopolies, privacy, misinformation, internet neutrality, racial bias in AI, and political advertising. Biden is likely to rethink “Section 230,” which shields platforms from liability for content posted by users. Concern about the wave of regulation to come may be what prompted Facebook and Twitter to finally ban Donald Trump this month.  Washington Post

Net Neutrality: One of the most obscene policies pushed through Congress by Republicans essentially made it legal for internet providers to provide preferential bandwidth to select commercial websites, and to “throttle” the rest. With control of the Senate, Democrats can appoint FCC commissioners who will reinstate net neutrality rules. Eventually, perhaps, they can even arrive at legislation that can permanently protect the free and open internet.  The Verge

Gig Workers: Biden’s campaign platform calls for gig workers at Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, etc to be reclassified as employees: “employer misclassification of ‘gig economy’ workers as independent contractors deprives these workers of legally mandated benefits and protections.” But the policy is controversial with many Democrats, and legislation may be difficult to pass in Congress. The Biden administration could implement changes to interpretation and enforcement, at a minimum.  Washington Post

Higher Corporate Taxes: Republicans cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% in 2017, contributing the massive deficits. Biden has called to increase it again to 28%. “Let me be clear: Hardworking Americans should not be paying more in federal income taxes than Amazon or Netflix.”

The policies and practices of big tech companies will be affected globally by legislation imposed in the US, and American regulation and taxes will make it easier for other countries to ensure privacy protections and worker rights, manage misinformation and racial bias, and preserve net neutrality. Without a doubt, if corporate taxes rise in the US, the argument that Canadian jurisdictions need to be competitive will change.




The Biden administration has already demonstrated significantly more respect for scientific expertise and educational experience than Trump. (No “My Pillow Guys” around Joe’s cabinet table!) Even without significant changes to funding or policy, academics and scholars will be heaving a sigh of relief that anti-intellectualism and outright distrust of intellect and education will no longer have the presidential podium…

The incoming First Lady, Jill Biden, will be continuing to work as an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College. In his acceptance speech, Joe Biden said, “For American educators, this is a great day for you all. You’re going to have one of your own in the White House.”

Biden’s Science Advisor will be Eric Lander, president and founding director of the Broad Institute at Harvard and MIT, and the position will be elevated to a cabinet post. Biden identified 5 priorities for science that overlap with his top priorities overall, including the pandemic, the economy, climate change, and economic prosperity. “Science will always be at the forefront of my administration – and these world-renowned scientists will ensure everything we do is grounded in science, facts, and the truth.”  Inside Higher Ed

“We’re on the cusp of some of the most remarkable breakthroughs that will fundamentally change our way of life. We can make more progress in the next 10 years than we made in the last 50 years. But we also face some of the most dire crises in generations, where science is critical to whether we meet this moment of peril with the promise we know that is in reach.”Joe Biden, US President-Elect


Biden’s new Education Secretary will be Miguel Cardona, a son of Puerto Rican immigrants who learned English in the Connecticut school system, became a school teacher himself, a principal, and the state commissioner of education. Cardona will be responsible for K-12 and PSE systems in which there are a growing number of ESL students, like he once was: 30% of US students under age 8 are English learners. And he will likely advance bilingual education, particularly in Spanish, to help those students learn and evaluate them fairly. (He wrote his doctoral dissertation on Sharpening the Focus of Political Will to Address Achievement Disparities.)  New York Times

Free College a No-Go? While Biden and many progressive Democrats want to see tuition-free college, it only takes one moderate Democrat to doom such legislation in the Senate. Biden’s original proposal was free tuition to all 2-year colleges, and free tuition to 4-year colleges for students with family incomes <$125,000. (Analysts estimate it would cost $683B over 11 years.) There may be more bipartisan support for a limit of 2 years at any institution, or for free community college tuition only. Inside Higher Ed

Double the Pell Grants: Biden proposed back in November that he would double the Pell grant to low-income PSE students. When they were created 50 years ago, Pell grants covered 80% of tuition, fees and housing at a public university; now they barely cover 30%. Although there has been some bipartisan support, Congress will find it difficult to double the $30B program during a recession.  Higher Ed Dive

Student Loans: On Day 1, Biden will extend the pause on federal student loan payments and interest. He will also extend restrictions on evictions and foreclosures. (Trump’s measures would have expired Jan 31.) He also plans to ask Congress to forgive up to $10,000 per borrower – completely erasing the debt of >15M graduates.  Chronicle of Higher Ed

“If the Democrats take control of the Senate, it will change everything, but it will guarantee nothing.”Terry Hartle, Sr VP Government Relations, American Council on Education


For-Profit Higher Ed: When Trump and DeVos came onto the scene in 2016, they quickly reversed Obama-era policies to impose accountability on predatory private colleges (like the “gainful employment rule”), and in fact proceeded to make it harder for students defrauded by for-profit institutions to have their debt cancelled. That shouldn’t be surprising, considering that Trump “University” was itself a fraud shut down by the NY Attorney General. We can expect a Biden administration to swing the pendulum back against the for-profit institutions.  Inside Higher Ed


Cases on Campus

Since yesterday, CdnPSE has reported 4 more cases of COVID19. (Many of course go unreported. My running tally is 1,175 since Sept, in my master spreadsheet.)

Durham College reported another case at its Whitby campus yesterday. (42 since Sept)  DC

Laurentian U reported a case in residence last Friday. (First I have noted since Sept)  Laurentian

Red River College reported another case yesterday, connected to the Notre Dame campus in Winnipeg. (19 since Sept)  RRC

Western U’s latest University Hospital outbreak has added a 7th case. (~254 cases at Western and UH since Sept)  London Free Press


Of course, CdnPSE can’t compete with the scale in the US…

Ohio State U laid ~5,500 student conduct charges related to COVID19 last semester, and imposed 1,416 sanctions, including 32 suspensions and 37 evictions from dorms.  Columbus Dispatch

UC San Diego reports a staggering 306 confirmed new cases of COVID19 on its campus since the winter quarter began on Jan 4 (245 students and 61 employees). 109 of the students live on-campus, but 85% of them went home for the holiday, and tested positive following their return.  Los Angeles Times



Blue Monday

Yesterday, uToronto released a 2-min video, “Dear Students,” to welcome students back after an extended holiday break. It skillfully edits together heartfelt messages of hope and support from 19 faculty members. Considering many recorded themselves on their phones, the audio and video quality is pretty good. Anthropology prof David Samson assures students, “You are the descendants of 500 million years of complex life on this planet – you’re here because your ancestors were strong. Stay strong and do honour to our ancestors.”  YouTube


Thanks for reading!  Stay safe and be well,


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