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John B. Hurford '60Center for the Arts and Humanities

Universities and Democracy: The Politics of US Higher Education Today

Mellon Symposium 2024

Organized by Andy Hines and Dennis Hogan
Friday, February 23, 2024
10:00 a.m.—5:30 p.m.

US universities play a variety of roles in the economic and political landscape, but the many guises in which they operate are rarely considered together. Recently, colleges and universities have become the targets of culture war battles and new legislative programs that restrict students' and faculty's ability to teach and learn about racism, history, and social justice. At the same time, universities redevelop neighborhoods, build and acquire healthcare facilities, arm police forces, and act as major employers across every category of labor. Tuition and fees drive the student debt crisis while, in some cases, schools act as significant institutional investors through their endowments. This symposium will bring together academics, activists, political leaders, and community members to tie these threads together and explore how universities got here and what people can do to make them more democratic places where everyone can flourish.

Sponsored by the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities, the Haverford College Distinguished Visitors Program, and the Aydelotte Foundation at Swarthmore College.

Black and white photograph of sit-in protest with title of symposium overlaid


Friday, February 23, 2024

All events, unless otherwise noted, will take place in VCAM 201

Mellon Symposium Schedule
    • 10:00 a.m.
    • Welcome by Dennis Hogan and Andy Hines
    • 10:15 a.m.—11:50 a.m.
    • Panel 1 featuring Junior Brainard (Community College of Philadelphia), Debi Lemieur (Temple University), and Brandon Mancilla (UAW)
    • 11:50 a.m.—12:20 p.m.
    • Break and Buffet Lunch
    • 12:20 p.m.—1:20 p.m.
    • Penn and West Philly Organizing Roundtable with Lunch, featuring Yvonne Harris (Penn Libraries/AFSCME), Christopher Rogers (Police Free Penn / W.E.B. Du Bois Movement School for Abolition & Reconstruction), and Emily Steinlight (UPenn/AAUP)
    • 1:20 p.m.—2:20 p.m.
    • Conversation between State Senator Nikil Saval and State Representative Rick Krajewski
    • 2:30 p.m.—3:30 p.m.
    • Panel 3 featuring Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò (Georgetown University) and Vineeta Singh (Virginia Commonwealth University)
    • 3:40 p.m.—4:40 p.m.
    • Panel 4 featuring Davarian Baldwin (Trinity College) and Donna Murch (Rutgers University)
    • 4:40 p.m.—5:30 p.m.
    • Open discussion/cross panel Q&A
    • 5:30 p.m.—6:30 p.m.
    • Reception (VCAM lounge)


How to get to VCAM

Enter on College Lane, turn left on to Coursey Road and park in the visiting parking lot. You do not need a parking permit.


Davarian Baldwin

Davarian L. Baldwin is an internationally recognized scholar, author, and public advocate. He is the Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of American Studies and Founding Director of the Smart Cities Research Lab at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. His academic and political commitments have focused on global cities and particularly the diverse and marginalized communities that struggle to maintain sustainable lives in urban locales. Baldwin is the award-winning author of several books, most recently, In The Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities Are Plundering Our Cities and served as the consultant and text author for The World of the Harlem Renaissance: A Jigsaw Puzzle (2022). His commentaries and opinions have been featured in numerous outlets from NBC News, BBC, and HULU to USA Today, the Washington Post, and TIME magazine. Baldwin was named a 2022 Freedom Scholar by the Marguerite Casey Foundation for his work.

Junior Brainard

Junior Brainard, Co-president of The Faculty and Staff Federation of Community College of Philadelphia (FSFCCP), Local AFT2026.

Yvonne Harris

My name is Yvonne Harris. I’m president of AFSCME Local 590, representing the libraryvsupport staff at the University of Pennsylvania. I’m a full-time staff member at the Van Pelt Library currently in the position of Building Superintendent. Since coming to the University and joining the union in 1981, I have served as Recording Secretary, Executive Board Member and Alternate Steward. I also serve as a Trustee Chair to our Legal Services Fund, and our Health and Welfare Fund. I also represent our local as an elected Delegate to AFSCME District Council 47 and the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO. I have continually served on our local negotiation teams since the early 1990s, and as lead negotiator for the local once elected president in 2010.

I was appointed by our International Union to serve as Administrator for AFSCME Local 54, our sister local on campus, after the passing of their President in 1999. Under my leadership, the local was able to successfully negotiate two contracts and cultivate new leadership via mentoring and training.

In addition to my union activities, I have also been active in my church, St. Paul’s Baptist Church, serving on numerous committees, including president of our church credit union and Chair of the Trustee Board. I believe service is the rent we pay, I have a passion for social justice and fairness and I believe fighting for worker’s rights is what I’ve been called to do.

State Representative Rick Krajewski

Rick Krajewski was elected to serve as the state representative of the 188th Legislative District in 2020. Krajewski is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in Electrical Engineering and co-founded a campus group for mixed race students. After he graduated in 2013, Krajewski worked as a software engineer and taught volunteer programming classes at Huey Elementary School in West Philadelphia before it was closed down and replaced by a charter school, giving him a firsthand look into the problems facing our public education system.

In 2016, he became a community organizer with Reclaim Philadelphia, fighting to put working class people at the forefront. He eventually left his engineering job to commit to community organizing full time, becoming a staff organizer in 2017. In his role as Lead Mass Liberation Organizer, he was the West Philadelphia organizer for the election of Larry Krasner as District Attorney. He was part of the movement to bring participatory defense to Philadelphia, to serve as a resource for community members who have loved ones facing the criminal justice system. In 2018, he was part of the team that brought a participatory defense hub to Southwest Philadelphia.

His priorities include making West and Southwest Philly housing affordable, working to transform the criminal justice system – including ending cash bail, death by incarceration, the school-to-prison pipeline and reimagining public safety – making public education accessible to all, preserving our environment with a Green New Deal, protecting workers and labor unions, and working to ensure that the needs of all people, especially those most vulnerable, are met.

Deborah Lemieur

Deborah Lemieur received a B.A. and an M.A. in Classics from Villanova University. She later received a second M.A., again in Classics, from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She has taught Classics (Greek and Latin language courses as well as ancient literature, history, and culture) at Rutgers, Ursinus College, Villanova University, and St. Joseph's University. Along with her primary interest in ancient Greece and Rome, Prof. Lemieur is also a poet. For many years she facilitated an online poetry forum, eventually editing a book of poetry for that group. Debbie has taught at Temple University in the Intellectual Heritage Program since 2009, teaching online classes as well as in person classes since 2015. She also has been the Chair of the Adjunct Constituency Council of TAUP since 2021 and is currently on the TAUP Table Team to negotiate a new contract with Temple Administration.

Brandon Macilla

Brandon Mancilla was elected UAW Region 9A Director in December 2022 in the first ever direct elections for the International Executive Board.

Mancilla was the first President of UAW Local 5118, (Harvard Graduate Students Union) in Cambridge, MA. His experience with Local 5118 began as a rank-and-file organizer. After beginning graduate school at Harvard University, he joined the organizing drive which delivered one of the largest private sector organizing victories in the last 20 years. Mancilla has also worked for UAW Local 2325 (Association of Legal Aid Attorneys) in New York City as a local staff organizer.

He was born into a working-class Guatemalan immigrant family in New York City. His commitment to building worker power comes in large part from his experience seeing how union membership allowed his family to achieve a level of stability and job protections that working-class immigrants in non-union jobs rarely have. Mancilla has a Master’s Degree in history from Harvard University and a Bachelor’s Degree from Williams College. He currently lives in Queens, New York. 

Donna Murch

Donna Murch is associate professor of history at Rutgers University, where she is chapter president of the New Brunswick chapter of Rutgers AAUP AFT. Her newest book, Assata Taught Me: State Violence, Racial Capitalism, and the Movement for Black Lives was published by Haymarket Books in March 2022. In October 2010, Murch published Living for the City: Migration, Education and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California with the University of North Carolina Press, which won the Phillis Wheatley prize in December 2011. Professor Murch is currently completing a new trade press book entitled Crack in Los Angeles: Policing the Crisis and the War on Drugs. She has written for the Sunday Washington Post, Guardian, New Republic, Nation, Boston Review, Jacobin, Black Scholar, Souls, the Journal of Urban History, Journal of American History, Perspectives and New Politics and appeared on BBC, CNN, Democracy Now and in Stanley Nelson’s documentary, Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution and Sam Pollard’s MLK/FBI.

Christopher Rogers

Christopher R. Rogers, Ph.D started We Win From Within in June 2023 as an educator and cultural worker from Chester, PA with more than a decade of experience in supporting arts, culture, and community. He currently co-coordinates the Friends of The Tanner House, incubating a revitalized Henry Ossawa Tanner House at the intersection of Black heritage preservation and community cultural organizing. He serves on the National Steering Committee for Black Lives Matter at School, spreading significant racial justice curriculum and policymaking in K-16 education. He has previously served in key roles with the Paul Robeson House & Museum / West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, Philadelphia Student Union, Teacher Action Group Philadelphia, and more.

Senator Nikil Saval

Senator Nikil Saval is a father, husband, writer, and organizer representing Pennsylvania’s First Senatorial District, which lies in the heart of Philadelphia.

Saval’s commitment to solidarity and justice for working people, and his skill at coalition building, carried him from his roots as a labor organizer to the Pennsylvania General Assembly, where he currently serves as Democratic Chair of the Senate’s Urban Affairs & Housing Committee and Chair of the Senate’s Philadelphia Delegation. Saval has focused his legislative work on critical response to Pennsylvania’s ongoing housing, mass incarceration, wage, and climate crises, while simultaneously pushing for deep structural change so that communities across the Commonwealth have the resources and support they need to thrive. One of his important legislative victories is the groundbreaking Whole-Home Repairs Program, which establishes a one-stop shop for home repairs and weatherization in each county in Pennsylvania while building up a local workforce and creating new, family-sustaining jobs in a growing field.

Since taking office, Saval has received numerous accolades for his work, including being named Champion of the Year (by Rebuilding Together), Outstanding Public Servant for Pennsylvania (by the Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance), Elected Official of the Year (by Liberty Resources), and Urbanist Changemaker of the Year (by 5th Square). Saval has also been recognized for Championing Increased Funding for Affordable Housing (by the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations) and with an Equal Justice Award (from Community Legal Services of Philadelphia). In addition, Saval has been listed in Philadelphia Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and City & State PA’s Philly Power 100 List and earned a 100% on Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania’s scorecard.

Vineeta Singh

Vineeta Singh joined the Interdisciplinary Studies Program and the VCU community in Fall 2021. She has previously taught at the University of Maryland College Park, the College of William & Mary, and the University of California in Santa Barbara and San Diego. She completed her Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from the University of California, San Diego in 2018 with a dissertation historicizing contemporary conversations around 'diversity, equity, and inclusion' in higher ed by placing today’s controversies and confrontations in the context of 400 years of U.S. racial democracy.

Her teaching and research are grounded in critical and abolitionist university studies. She serves as Associate Editor of Ethnic Studies Review, a UC Press journal, and is currently curating submissions for a distributed special issue titled “Abolitionist Pedagogies, Pedagogical Labor,” exploring how to build pedagogies, classrooms, and institutions grounded in radical traditions of feminist, queer, abolitionist, and decolonial world-making.

Heather Steffen

Heather Steffen is an adjunct professor in the Master's Program in Engaged and Public Humanities at Georgetown University, where she also serves as advisory editor to the student-run journal Interspaces. Trained in literary and cultural studies, she is a scholar of U.S. higher education, academic labor issues, and critical / abolitionist / decolonial university studies. Heather also works as Programs Coordinator for Faculty First Responders, a partner organization of the American Federation of Teachers, which educates faculty and administrators about the causes and consequences of right-wing attacks on faculty, while providing resources and advice on how to effectively respond to targeted harassment.

Emily Steinlight

Emily Steinlight is Associate Professor of English at Penn and the author of Populating the Novel: Literary Form and the Politics of Surplus Life. She co-organized and is currently Vice President of AAUP-Penn, and she serves as her chapter's delegate to Higher Ed Labor United.

Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò

Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of California Los Angeles. He has published in academic journals ranging from Public Affairs Quarterly, One Earth, Philosophical Papers, and the American Philosophical Association newsletter Philosophy and the Black Experience.

Táíwò’s theoretical work draws liberally from the Black radical tradition, anti-colonial thought, German transcendental philosophy, contemporary philosophy of language, contemporary social science, and histories of activism and activist thinkers.

His public philosophy, including articles exploring intersections of climate justice and colonialism, has been featured in The New Yorker, The Nation, Boston Review, Dissent, The Appeal, Slate, Al Jazeera, The New Republic, Aeon, and Foreign Policy.

He is the author of Elite Capture and Reconsidering Reparations.


Andy Hines

Andy Hines is the author of Outside Literary Studies: Black Criticism and the University (Chicago, 2022) and editor of University Keywords (Johns Hopkins, under contract). He is the Senior Associate Director of the Aydelotte Foundation at Swarthmore College.

Dennis Hogan

Dennis Hogan is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor in Peace, Justice, and Human Rights. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from Brown University,, and has previously served as the Rhode Island Political Director of SEIU 1199NE, a union representing workers from across the care economy, and as the political director of GLO, the union of graduate workers at Brown University. At Haverford, he teaches and researches in Comparative Literature and Critical University studies; this semester, alongside Andy Hines, he is co-teaching a course called University City, which explores the political economy of higher education in the Philadelphia region.