MUSG hosts U.S. Secretary Donovan for town hall discussion

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U.S. Secretary Shaun Donovan came to campus on Thursday for a town hall style State of the Union Address to talk about the president’s policy initiatives and hopes of “making public service cool again.”

Nearly 75 students gathered in the Alumni Memorial Union to hear the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development talk about President Obama’s most recent State of the Union address and answer audience submitted questions. The event was made possible because of communication between the White House and Marquette University Student Government.

“Last week, I got a call from the White House Office of Public Engagement,” said Joey Ciccone, MUSG President and a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. “On the phone, they said that the President would like to send Secretary Donovan to campus to host a student town hall on the State of the Union and student issues. I gladly accepted the invitation for MUSG to host it.”

Ciccone added that many university departments played an important role in making the event a success, including the Office of Public Affairs, the Office of Media and Communication and the Office of Student Development.

Donovan focused his talk around audience questions, which ranged from affordable student loans to immigration. He also talked about housing issues and how those relate directly to Milwaukee.

“Milwaukee has been a pioneer in lifting up neighborhoods,” Donovan said. “We want to continue to find ways to keep people in their homes.”

Donovan also addressed the importance of attending college and what President Obama is doing to keep college and student loans affordable.

“The president has proposed [in his State of the Union address] that we restructure the way that we fund universities so that they have more of an incentive to keep cost down for students,” he said.

Since American universities, including Marquette, often draw international students, Donovan touched on the importance of immigration and keeping valuable students here in the United States.

“Right now, we give students visas to come [to America], attend the best universities in the world, and then we tell them to leave,” he said. “We’re basically training the entrepreneurs of the future to compete with us in countries around the world. It makes no sense.”

Donovan stressed that in order for any of President Obama’s goals to be accomplished, especially those that directly affect college students, Congress needs to work together on both sides of the aisle.

“We need to take steps to take the special interests out of Congress,” Donovan said. “I also believe that after the economic hurt heals from the past year, Congress will be able to work somewhat more civilly and more rationally.”

Throughout his talk, Donovan emphasized the importance of public service in every form, including “making your voice heard” at the polls.

“[Public Service] is not the easiest job in the world, and you won’t get paid the biggest amount of money,” he said. “But I couldn’t do anything else because it is so rewarding.”

Students in attendance thought Marquette was lucky to be able to host such an important and relevant member of President Obama’s cabinet. Sam Schultz, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, said the secretary seemed genuine during his talk.

“At Marquette we constantly hear the, ‘one person can make a difference’ vision of service in the community,” he said. “Those issues are so relevant to Milwaukee, and he genuinely seemed passionate about making the lives of people better.”

Elizabeth Spaits, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, agreed that Donovan’s talk was interesting and relevant. She added, however, that she wished a few more issues specific to Milwaukee had been discussed.

“I do wish that he had discussed issues that pertained specifically to Milwaukee and its economic growth,” Spaits said. “Politics aside, Mr. Donovan described his desire to help others and how he pursued that.”