The United States must enact education and immigration reforms to help grow its economic power, Senator Charles Schumer of New York said during a lecture on campus Friday afternoon.
In order to maintain America’s economic competitiveness, the nation must encourage international students who study here to find jobs after graduating, as opposed to returning to their home countries, said Schumer, speaking to a crowd of about 300 alumni, students and friends of Brandeis in the Shapiro Campus Center.
“It is absolutely absurd that the best and brightest people want to come to our universities and we send them home to compete against us for jobs,” Schumer said. “We have to change our immigration laws. It’s [a] moral imperative.”
He explained his support for a bill that would allow international students who earn a masters or doctorate degree to receive temporary residency status.
Discussing education reform, Schumer said that America needs to focus on the quality of its teachers and that schools require both more funding and higher standards.
“America grows when we’re better educated,” he said. “You’d rather have a really good teacher of 23 than a mediocre teacher of 18.”
Describing the current political climate, Schumer said today’s economic issues will not be solved by extreme views. Political extremes are shaped in primary elections where candidates appeal to the far left or right in their parties to attract votes, he said.
“The ideologies of both the hard left and hard right won’t fit the needs of this country,” he said. “Too much of our politics, both in the electoral [process] and the media world, gets dominated by extremes.”
Schumer said that Americans need to realize and not reject the role government can play in boosting the economy.
The No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, Schumer portrayed the conservative view of government as one that advocates for no large role in growing the economy.
“This hard-right philosophy is you’re doing fine on your own—you don’t need this government,” Schumer said. “People will choose no government over a government they feel is helping somebody else. But they will choose a government that helps them over a government that helps nobody.”
Explaining the economic troubles of the United States, Schumer said that the nation must focus on increasing production and the number of exports.
“For 15 or 20 years, we consumed more than we produced, we borrowed more than we saved and we imported more than we exported,” Schumer said. “How do we [be]come a production giant, as opposed to just a consumption giant?”
He also advocated for more investment in infrastructure, including broadband Internet access in rural areas, and research and development.
“When the federal government invests in scientific research, it’s not just an exercise in abstract knowledge,” Schumer said. “It creates thousands and thousands of jobs. To cut back on scientific research, our pie will never grow.”
Other policies that will allow the United States to grow economically in the long-term include tax and regulation reform, as well as deficit reduction, through spending cuts in non-essential areas, he said.
“We have to, as a country, look at places where spending has gone up, up [and] up without bang for the buck.”
Schumer spoke at the inaugural Saul G. Cohen memorial lecture, named after the man who was the first chair of the chemistry department at Brandeis, as well as the first university professor.
Cohen, who retired from Brandeis in 1986, worked with Edwin Land in the 1940s to help develop Polaroid and instant film. He died on April 24, 2010.
University President Fred Lawrence, who said he was the first president not to know Cohen, applauded Cohen’s legacy at Brandeis—the creation of a liberal arts research university.
“I know where he’s been by the impact that he’s had and still has on this university,” Lawrence said. “He saw something that didn’t really exist at the time. His contribution will continue to play a major role in the life of this university.”
Saul Cohen’s daughter Elisabeth, a friend of Schumer’s, said that her father valued science as part of a liberal arts education.
“My father strongly also believed that science was necessary in any education,” she said. “It’s fitting that this lectureship be devoted to leadership not only in science but in politics, humanities and the arts.”
Schumer, who originally planned to be a chemist, said that he did not know Saul Cohen, but has been friendly with his children for years.
“Knowing them, he must have been someone really special, not just as a scientist, but as a human being,” Schumer said.