Remarks of Joseph Neubauer
Chairman and CEO, ARAMARK
April 13th, 2010
Thank you Alice for that warm welcome and introduction.
While we are gathered today to recognize the 267th anniversary of Jefferson’s birth, it is interesting to note that Thomas Jefferson actually preferred to celebrate July 4th, the country’s birthday, rather than his own. Every year this tradition continues as Monticello hosts a large naturalization ceremony welcoming new citizens.
I can certainly relate to this. I vividly remember my own naturalization ceremony almost 45 years ago, March 22, 1966 at the United States District Court in Brooklyn NY. I had just earned an MBA from the University of Chicago, gotten married, and started my first job at the Chase Manhattan Bank. My opportunity and good fortune seemed miraculous.
I had come to America, by myself at age 14, like so many before me, in pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Though just an awkward teen, who could not yet speak English, my parents knew that education was the key to fulfilling my dreams.
Total strangers invested in me: a public high school English teacher stayed after hours, my high school principal advanced me to the next grade before I officially fulfilled all the requirements, a young friend in my class took it upon himself to explain football, Thanksgiving and other American mysteries to the first foreign student and the first Jew ever to enter Holton High School in Danvers, Massachusetts.
Their generosity enabled me to pursue my dreams. I graduated from high school, went to Tufts University to study Engineering and then won a scholarship to the University of Chicago for graduate business school. Mind you, I was not even an American citizen at the time. This fact amazes me to this day. I will never forget my start in this country and the people who believed in me. It is the source of my devotion to the United States of America and my commitment to giving back to the communities which have added the most meaning to my life.
Chief amongst these communities are universities, because I believe that America’s higher education system is its second most important achievement after the shining example of democracy precipitated by the Declaration of Independence. In this, I feel like a Thomas Jefferson disciple.
At the end of his long and illustrious career, while working to create the University of Virginia, he wrote, “This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth where it may lead, nor to tolerate any error as long as reason is left free to combat it.” Truth can sometimes be uncomfortable and divisive but its examination and assessment is the surest route to human progress.
So for me, the privileges of American freedom and American educational opportunities are inextricably intertwined.
The University of Chicago is one of America’s greatest research universities. Historically, research universities represent an important advancement in the American educational tradition. For many centuries, the idea of college was to train students---usually, elites---to acquire knowledge in specific subject areas---law or theology, for example. Research universities are dedicated to the proposition that the goal of education is to teach students how to reason—not just master a trade; and that the best instruction depends on a combination of research and teaching.
The best research universities are meritocracies, where status is earned by the creation of new knowledge; where ideas succeed or fail based on how persuasive an argument is. This openness allows anyone to participate. It trains students to think critically; to test their ideas and defend them; to be inspired to propose new ones. At a place like UVA or Chicago, it creates a dynamic intellectual environment, where competition stimulates the imagination and imagination stimulates innovation.
Unlike students in Europe or Asia, students in American universities are expected to balance their curricula – humanities, science, arts and social science in order to earn a degree – in the belief that broad-based education is the best preparation for the complexity of problems students will face after graduation.
What kind of world will today’s students face? While a precise answer is inevitably unknowable, certain trends are clear: we live in a more rapid, more intense, more globally interconnected world. And while there will be a continued need for deep specialization in specific disciplines, at the same time, there will be an unprecedented demand for networks and teams to tackle complex tasks.
If the purpose of universities is to educate future leaders who will in turn tackle society’s most pressing problems, those leaders can no longer afford to be trained in only one dimension. For example, solving today’s health problems requires expertise in economics and nano technology as much as medicine. Tackling the global financial crisis requires skill in political science as much as mathematics.
Clearly, the challenges we face will require not only well educated people, but people who are interested in collaboration and skilled at sharing insights and working on teams. Technology will facilitate cross-border communication, and perhaps present not-yet-imagined techniques for distance learning and instruction. More than ever, universities will be competing vigorously for talent---both faculty and students-- adept at managing these multiple demands. Jefferson clearly recognized the power of education to attract talent, as he hoped that UVA would “be a temptation to the youth of other states to come and drink of the cup of knowledge and fraternize with us.”
What demonstrates his passion for a wide range of knowledge better than his cherished library, which contained the nation’s largest personal collection of books?
In 1814, after the British army burned the Capitol building containing the 3,000 volume Library of Congress, Jefferson suggested his library as a replacement. This offer created some sharp debate, as concerns were raised about the large number of books in foreign languages and subjects not thought to be germane to Congress. Jefferson, however, firmly believed that “There is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.” In early 1815, Congress approved the purchase of nearly 6,500 books from Jefferson which sowed the seeds of the today’s incomparable Library of Congress collection.
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During the entire 20th century, America was the beneficiary of massive waves of immigration, first from Europe and more recently, Asia. The culture of meritocracy in American universities---at least in ideal---welcomed many immigrants to the faculty and student body alike. Their contributions garnered academic distinctions like Nobel Prizes and competitive research grants for their institutions. It also made American universities a magnet for talent worldwide.
Which is how I got to America. I was always used to being one of comparatively few. Until very recently, only a small fraction of any population attended university. Today it’s completely different. Developing countries understand the power and value of education. Around the world not only in the United States and Western Europe but increasingly in Asia, India, Latin America and Africa people want to go to college and are encouraged to do so – providing they can manage the financial burden. Despite some post 9-11 visa impediments, a record 672,000 foreign students matriculated at American universities in 2008. The top four countries of origin include India, China, South Korea and Canada. International students contribute $18 billion to the US economy through their expenditures on tuition and living expenses. So even before earning their degrees, international students contribute to the well-being of American society. And what do these graduates do with the knowledge they gain here? They add to America’s human capital. A recent National Science Foundation study shows that 25% of patent applications filed in 2006 were filed by immigrants to the U.S. 27 of the 40 finalists in the recent Intel Science Talent Search hailed from immigrant families.
In my opinion, the growing restrictiveness of our immigration policy threatens one of the fundamental pillars of American strength.
As you can imagine I am a great believer in the American free enterprise system. Government policy sometimes gets in the way of achieving its most averred goals. What could be more important in America today, than job creation? Statistics suggest that stimulating the growth of small business is crucial. So take for example, the predicament of a small company called Newcope, started by two young men from Holland, here on tourist visas to visit Silicon Valley. While hanging out, they developed a payment system for on-line games. They want to raise some capital, hire employees and grow the business. But unless legislation changes, they will have to leave the country this spring no matter how much financing they raise. Happily, there is a bi-partisan effort sponsoring legislation to issue a two year visa to any immigrant who can attract $250,000 from American investors. After two years, the immigrant could become a permanent resident if the business has created five US-based full time jobs, raised an additional $1 million or generated $1 million in revenue.
The prospect of becoming a resident and gaining access to the enormous US market would attract the most ambitious, creative entrepreneurs. Vigorous job creation could help combat recent rising isolationist sentiment in the United States.
Thomas Jefferson was no stranger to the struggle of combating legislation that interfered with empirical goals that would advance the interests of America. On July 4, 1803, a Washington newspaper published news of the Louisiana Purchase, perhaps the largest land deal in history. Thanks to secret negotiations, Napoleon Bonaparte had agreed to sell everything between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains—a vast territory whose boundaries had not even been charted. The deal doubled the size of the United States at a cost of 4 cents an acre----but still, at an aggregate price that threatened the nascent economy, much to the apprehension of Congress. But President Jefferson prevailed, and sent Colonel Meriwether Lewis and his Corps of Discovery to embark on the greatest scientific voyage ever conceived up to that time.
I believe that Thomas Jefferson’s lifelong addiction to reading and learning, enabled him to synthesize so many complex ideas into such a coherent vision---with such momentous practical consequences. I believe that his years of public service forced him to test those ideas against the best minds of his day. I believe that both he and the United States became better and stronger as a consequence.
I am deeply honored to be part of this moving ceremony here at Monticello. I think back to that March day---my naturalization ceremony in the US District Court in Brooklyn. I was a scared, excited, immigrant kid. In many countries, the Law is not your friend and nothing good comes out of a visit to a courtroom. But America is unique among nations. When I raised my right hand in 1966 and swore allegiance to this great country, I knew I would never forget the strangers who welcomed me, nurtured me and helped me to develop the skills I depend on today. I also knew that the best expression of my gratitude would be to reach out and help the next person in line.
That is why I derive such satisfaction from projects with the capacity to change fundamentally, the ability of others to access an educational or cultural experience; to enlarge their horizons, deepen their understanding; to create opportunity where none existed before.
In this, I will always be devoted to the principles that characterized and animated the life of Thomas Jefferson.