Advice for the Next President

An American flag in the lawn in front of the Cathedral of LearningA new administration dawns on the United States with Joe Biden becoming the country’s 46th president on Jan. 20. After a contentious election, as well as the Capitol Hill chaos on Jan. 6, an air of uncertainty surrounds the transition of power as political divisions seem more entrenched than ever.

Kristin Kanthak in a gray sweater and scarf“So many people are calling for us to unify as Americans, and figuring out what we need to do to unify, but we have a process by which we unify as Americans and that’s the inauguration,” said Kristin Kanthak, associate professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh. “We have lost sight of that given our political polarization and, quite frankly, the attempt to turn it into a crowd size contest last time. But we have lots of Americans talking about how we need to come together as a country, and that is exactly what inaugurations are for.”

As the Biden-Harris presidential transition begins, Pitt experts shared their thoughts about the significant issues that face the incoming administration.

Legislative priorities

Valerie Kinloch, Renée and Richard Goldman Dean, School of Education:

Valerie Kinloch in a yellow top“During this presidential transition, attention will need to be placed on a number of pressing topics. Some of them include: adequately implementing safe solutions to eradicating the COVID-19 pandemic; intentionally addressing and seeking solutions to prevent further racial violence and systemic oppression endured by Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other peoples and communities of color; and drastically improving the educational experiences of students and the working conditions of educators.

“The perspectives, voices, and realities of students, teachers, educational leaders, families and communities must be taken seriously when it comes to ensuring access to equitable forms of education as well as high-quality and available health care within non-oppressive and anti-racist systems.”

Gary Hollibaugh, assistant professor, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs:

Gary Hollibaugh in a dark blue suit and a striped tie“It is unlikely that a Biden administration will be able to take sweeping legislative action immediately upon inauguration due to the tight margin in the Senate, the continued existence of the legislative filibuster and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s recent statements that he would refuse to eliminate the filibuster or expand the size of the federal judiciary. Major legislative accomplishments are likely to be narrow and relatively infrequent in the foreseeable future. 

“To accomplish this, President Biden needs the cooperation of career civil servants as well as a robust slate of appointees dedicated to the Biden agenda. Likely helping a Biden administration will be the expected recission of Executive Order 13957, which created a new class of federal employees not subject to standard civil service protections and allowed for the reclassification of many employees as a result.”

Sustainability

Aurora Sharrard, director of sustainability:

Aurora Sharrard in a black top“As we move into the Biden-Harris presidency, the balance of equity, environment and economics that sustainability strives for is expected to be more stable. With a new, more representative diversity of voices and perspectives in the new administration, the Biden-Harris administration has plans for sustainable growth, renewed infrastructure and clean energy, all deployed with a focus on advancing racial equity, environmental justice and job creation. They're also expected to rejoin the global Paris Agreement on climate change on day one.”

Social and racial justice

Jerome Taylor, associate professor, Africana Studies

Jerome Taylor in a brown scarf“We must applaud but not be fully dependent on public policies either now or later to remove deep stains of more than 400 years of continuous oppression. Certainly, we will welcome policies that matter, but I think we must ultimately rely on the ingenuity of Black and white scholars, practitioners and policy makers whose contributions make it possible to enable justice and freedom, even in unjust and unfair places. On this matter of justice and freedom, we can't wait like Samuel Beckett's Godot for a promissory note now 400 years overdue. Even where matters are unjust and unfair, we must find a way even there to bring justice and freedom to our children.”  

International affairs

Erica Palmer Owen, associate professor, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs:

Erica Palmer Owen in a turquoise top and black suit jacket“Generally, in international affairs, the Biden administration will be more globally engaged and cooperative. President-elect Biden has stated plans to rejoin the World Health Organization and the Paris climate agreement right away.  

“With respect to trade, President-elect Biden and President Trump are not too far apart in terms of their stated goals. Both want to revitalize American manufacturing, protect American workers and address unfair trade practices. But we will see a different approach. Whereas the Trump administration’s approach to trade has been combative and unilateral (e.g. the U.S.-China trade war), the Biden administration is likely to pursue a more comprehensive and cooperative strategy.

“On another matter very relevant to Pitt and our community, immigration policy is more likely to be humane and open. Many aspects of immigration policy under the Trump administration, from family separation, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and restrictions on the number of refugees, were cruel, and in the case of those relating to visas for international students, downright self-sabotage. There is no question that America’s ability to attract the best and brightest students from all over the world is one of our biggest strengths. We see this right here in Pittsburgh where many businesses locate to have access to bright students and cutting-edge research and innovation. These students are a tremendous asset to our school, our community and our country.”

Divisions and values

Carl Kurlander, senior lecturer, Film and Media Studies:

Carl Kurlander in a black suit and tie“The election will not magically heal everything, and I hope that—should things go as now predicted and Biden takes office—that this administration remembers that Pittsburgh values Joe, who announced and ended his campaign here. Be humble, gracious, kind and forgiving, and remember we are all still neighbors, and as Fred Rogers knew, there are good neighbors everywhere. Look out for them, whether they voted for you or not. In that way, Joe seems the right man to wear Rogers’ sweater, so to speak.”