The midterm elections are fast approaching, and higher education is on the ballot. According to the memoirist turned ultra-conservative political hopeful J.D. Vance, “The professors are the enemy” — an attitude whose legislative corollaries include a widespread focus on the teaching of “critical race theory” in college classrooms and high-profile political disputes over controversies like the University of North Carolina’s attempt to hire Nikole Hannah-Jones. Meanwhile, President Biden’s debt-cancellation plan faces Republican pushback and is likely to meet legal challenges. Two landmark anti-affirmative-action cases await their day at the Supreme Court. The elections may turn on questions of money, access, meritocracy, censorship, expertise, and even of competing social and cultural styles — and all of those charged topics converge on higher ed, which has, in recent years, assumed a kind of symbolic importance it hasn’t had since the height of the Cold War.
We’ve reached out to academics and writers of all stripes to help make sense of what this fall will mean for higher ed. Over the next couple of months, we’ll be publishing their responses here. —The Editors