Higher Ed and the Presidential Election

Writing in the final days leading up to the 2012 presidential election, I am struck both by the importance of higher education to the presidential contest and the deep engagement of our College faculty and students with the election. As our nation debates its future, it is no surprise the future of higher education has become a key issue. Our future depends on increasing access to college; affordability of a college education and the availability of student loans are thus essential. Funding for research is equally essential. Public research universities, including the University of Kentucky, are responsible for more than sixty percent of the nation’s academic research and educate over seventy percent of the scientists, engineers, doctors, and professionals that we produce in this country. Continued public investment in our basic and applied research is therefore essential to the health, prosperity, and technological advancement of our nation.

It is no small wonder than that our students have been deeply engaged in the electoral campaign. Professor Kathi Kern and I have had the great fortune to lead a group of 150 students, almost all first-year students on an in depth exploration of the election in a new course, “Currents: America through the Lens of the 2012 Election.” It has been a pleasure to see how politically involved our students are and to help them better understand for themselves the electoral system, candidates, campaigns, and implications of the 2012 election. Colleagues from political science, history, economics, philosophy, and gender and women studies have joined us in class, helping students to better understand how different disciplines approach politics. And two seasoned Congressional aids, Michael Higdon from Representative Hal Rogers’ office and Matt Dinkel from Representative Mike Doyle’s office, have met with our students via Skype over the course of the semester to provide insider’s views.

Across campus, A&S faculty and staff have been working to bring the election to campus. Professor Steven Voss, our elections expert in the Department of Political Science, has made himself available to students on multiple occasions. He has been joined by colleagues from other departments on many panels. The Center for English as a Second Language has organized events specifically for our international students so they could better understand the campaign and what is at stake. And Brandi Scalise, one of our most creative lecturers in Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Media, organized a panel discussion and debate watching party before the third debate.

We have no classes scheduled on Tuesday November 6, election-day, so that all members of the UK community can participate fully in the election. That night, however, the Departments of Political Science and History and the College of Arts and Sciences will host a party for the entire university community to celebrate American democracy and watch the returns in the King Alumni House from 6 pm to 11:30. We are all looking forward to the end of a long campaign!