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President Obama’s State of the Union address last night touched upon several issues that are likely to affect the University, including the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, funding for science research and technology, and the DREAM Act.
In his speech, which favored breadth over specifics, Obama managed to maintain a strong presence as a leader but the challenge will be implementing his proposals, professors said.
Barbara L. Kellerman, a lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School, said that she felt Obama was able to do what he needed to in order to reassert his authority.
“Tonight he was the central figure that Americans have historically looked to, which was not the case for most of 2010,” Kellerman said.
Obama emphasized the importance of education, science scholarship, and technology, calling these pursuits “our generation’s Sputnik moment.”
Government and Sociology Professor Theda R. Skocpol said she felt his
“call to build American competitiveness” with countries such as China and India was a much needed vote of confidence in the country.
In light of Obama’s emphasis on improving education, professors said that they were not concerned that Harvard, which receives significant federal funding for its research projects, would be adversely effected by the partial five-year spending freeze that the President proposed last night.
Obama also called for colleges and universities to open their doors to ROTC after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” in what some professors said they felt was a powerful message to the University.
“That was delivered right to Harvard,” said Kennedy School lecturer Elaine C. Kamarck.
Harvard and other universities have previously barred ROTC from their campuses because “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” violated their non-discrimination policies.
Though University President Drew G. Faust has recently said she welcomes the military’s return to campus, it remains unclear if ROTC will be reinstalled at Harvard.
“There is nothing more symbolically important than Harvard getting ROTC back,” added Kamarck. “The preeminent university in the country should have ROTC.”
Obama also discussed immigration reform and the politics of the DREAM Act—a bill which would extend a path to citizenship for undocumented minors—without mentioning it by name.
The president’s decision to speak vaguely about this legislation, for which Faust has been a major advocate, may have been an effort to diffuse partisan tension in the room, Kamarck said, considering that the speech comes close on the heels of the Tucson shooting.
The recent tragedy shadowed the event, resulting in a more subdued atmosphere, Kellerman said.
She noted that there was less loud cheering, and that members of Congress seemed to be more “genteel” and “cordial” than in previous years.
Though Republican and Democratic members of Congress sat side by side last night, several professors agreed that the recent push for civility and bipartisanship might be short-lived.
“I think we’re headed towards continued partisan entanglement and opposition,” Government Professor Harvey C. Mansfield ’53 said.
However, the effort to tone down political rhetoric may have resulted in a speech that was less powerful than others Obama has given.
“Nothing is going to linger in the history books,” Kellerman said.
—Staff writer Tara W. Merrigan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Zoe A. Y. Weinberg can be reached at email@example.com.
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