[Editor's Note] | Introducing the March 2016 Issue, by Ellen Rosenbush | Harper's Magazine

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[Editor's Note]

Introducing the March Issue

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Marilynne Robinson, Christopher Ketcham, Rivka Galchen, Stuart Franklin, and more

“The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘campus’ as an Americanism,” notes Marilynne Robinson in her cover story defending public universities. Our distinctly American campuses “emerged from a glorious sense of the possible” she writes, but this sense has been overshadowed by crude economic determinism. The pressure to transform public universities from humanist institutions into training grounds for employment in the global economy belies their original promise: “that the gifts young Americans might bring to the world as individuals stimulated by broad access to knowledge might have a place or value in this future.”

Last fall, students across the country demonstrated against institutional racism at some of nation’s most prestigious universities. For this month’s Readings, six contributors explore the charge that college campuses are only safe spaces for those whose safety is already guaranteed by their whiteness. “Instead of being protected by the institution that you see your white counterparts inhabiting so casually,” Dawn Lundy Martin writes of the experience of students of color, “you find the institution protected from you.” To those who would question the legitimacy of these students’ feelings—and to those who would ask them to labor to make visible the quotidian racial aggressions they endure—Hannah Black responds: “Critics seem not to have noticed… that their own safety is premised on the radical lack of safety of others. They are more troubled by the thought police, who don’t exist,” she writes, “than by the real police, who kill. They are free to speak, and believe themselves to be so, but they seem surprised to find that others are, too.”

In this month’s Report, Christopher Ketcham investigates the Wildlife Services, a rogue branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that in 2014 alone killed thousands of endangered, threatened, and beloved animals—namely, 322 wolves, 61,702 coyotes, 2,930 foxes, 580 black bears, 796 bobcats, five golden eagles, and three bald eagles. The agency is secretive about its killing practices, which former agents and wildlife advocates describe as cruel, unusual, “merciless and indiscriminate,” even insane. “I’ve served on the Homeland Security Committee, and Wildlife Services is more difficult to get information from than our intelligence agencies,” explained one congressman. And though many pet owners have attributed the disappearance of their dogs and cats to the agency’s activities, it is unclear whether anyone can be held accountable. “There really is no law to apply that might restrain the agency,” the chief counsel at the Humane Society tells Ketcham, “even with a sympathetic judge.”

Also in this issue: a poem chosen and introduced by Ben Lerner, the magazine’s new poetry editor; Christine Smallwood on Charlotte Brontë; Rivka Galchen reviews the Wooster Group’s staging of an early Harold Pinter play; and Stuart Franklin probes the shifting ethical landscape of the staged photograph, from the anti-Photoshop rules of the World Press Photo competition to Werner Herzog’s pursuit of more “poetic, ecstatic truths.”

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