DETROIT — During a small group discussion with students from the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and the Detroit School of Arts High School, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D–Mich.) opened by admitting he is a Wolverine fan, drawing laughs of disapproval from the MSU students.
As he continued his address, held at the University’s Detroit Center, he discussed the importance of prioritizing legislation related to higher education initiatives and discussed President Barack Obama’s performance in last week’s debate.
“We are truly a great university state,” Levin said. “I think population-wise we may have the best higher education system and maybe the most extensive higher education system.”
Levin’s speech is part of a The Legislative Collaborative — a four-part political forum jointly sponsored by the University’s Detroit Center and the nearby MSU Detroit Center to engage students with politicians. The three other speakers have yet to be confirmed, according to Addell Austin Anderson, the director of the University’s Detroit Center.
During his speech, Levin emphasized his belief that America must work together to improve its schools for the sake of future economic stability and job growth.
“We … have, in high-tech areas, an ability to bring in a lot of people to fill jobs where yet we don’t have enough American students getting ready to fill (those),” Levin said. “We got to change that.
He added that it’s imperative that America’s colleges strengthen programs in the sciences in order to continue to be globally competitive.
“We got to get much greater emphasis on math and on science — science particularly — in this country so that we don’t need to have folks come in (from other countries) to fill that demand.”
In an interview after the event, Levin expressed frustration over the potential damage that could be done to the prestige of the American higher education system if lawmakers fail to allocate proper attention to the institutions.
“It’s an election year, we’ll make choices,” he said. “This is a year where we decide where our priorities are. You want tax cuts? (They’ll) lead us to drastic reduction in education support.”
Levin said despite his fervent support of Obama, he was disappointed with the president’s performance in the Oct. 3 presidential debate. He noted there were a number of areas where Obama could have easily chided Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Specifically, Levin said the president could have gained leverage by mentioning Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, his desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act and what Levin believes is an apathetic attitude toward the middle class.
“I would have been much more aggressive. And I would have pointed out the contrast of differences on positions,” Levin said. “(Romney) is a flip-flopper.”
As the longest serving U.S. Senator in Michigan history, Levin said his years of experience in public life have given him crucial insights, and he expressed his firm belief that disappointment serves a greater purpose, as one failure may lead to another success.
“One of the things that I’ve learned is that … not getting something you had your heart set on could turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you,” Levin said.
The personal connection Levin provided is exactly the kind of experience that Anderson said the University’s Detroit Center is seeking to breach the gap between politicians and their student constituents.
Central Student Government President Manish Parikh, who moderated the event, said he enjoyed discussing higher education with Levin.
“It was an honor moderating the Town Hall with our Senior Senator Carl Levin,” Parikh said. “He’s known for bipartisan compromises, (and) he delivered once again bringing the Champion Wolverines and MSU Spartans together. I couldn’t agree more with his assessment that Michigan’s Public University System is the best in the nation.”