UR met U.S. last week in the form of a handshake between the president of the University and the President of the United States.

University President Joel Seligman met President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama last Tuesday night after the Commander in Chief’s final State of the Union address in Washington, D.C.

Seligman attended the speech as  the guest of Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the congresswoman for New York’s 25th Congressional District, which includes Rochester and its suburbs. A release put out less than a week before the address announced Seligman’s attendance. “I was so happy to have my good friend, Joel, as my  guest for this historic speech,” the statement from Slaughter reads. “He’s been an extraordinary leader and has done wonderful things for the university and our local economy.”

Seligman  was not the only guest from higher education­—Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) invited  a Syracuse University undergraduate facing significant college debt.

These invitations come at a time when the issue of financial aid and the cost of a college education weigh heavily on the minds of many Americans. While President Obama did speak about ways to make college more affordable during the address, he focused more on the proposal to make two-year community college programs free for students; he mentioned past reductions to student loans, but did not talk about further changes.

Several adjustments to the current system of financial aid are being considered in a bill that Congress is expected to review in the coming year. Some of these changes may include simplifications to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and changed interest rates for student loans. In an article published by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Seligman was quoted as supporting simplifications to the application process, saying it’s “in everybody’s best interest.”

Seligman said that he was “honored” by Representative Slaughter’s invitation. It was a “once in a lifetime experience,” he said, as he had never been to a State of the Union address. He described one particular moment—that of President Obama’s standing ovation before the speech—as one especially struck him; he felt “the sense that this was a valedictory moment: a sense of summing up for the president. In a partisan city, there was greater warmth,” he suspects, “than usual.”

Prior to the address, Slaughter and Seligman attended several receptions, in which they spoke with area representatives from both parties. Seligman also had the opportunity to meet Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and other invited guests.

His invitation followed a period of achievements for Seligman and Slaughter’s partnership. Recently, their work together contributed to Rochester’s selection as the headquarters for a new photonics institute, an establishment that will bring millions in grant money to the area and create scores of jobs for the region. Seligman noted the importance of partnerships between research universities and “government at all levels, business corporations, labor, and other constituents.” He added that the State has been “crucially supportive” of many University projects.

A few days after the State of the Union address, on Jan. 15, Slaughter announced in a press release further grants awarded to the University of Rochester totalling 2.6 million. These grants will go towards funding medical research for a variety of topics.

Tagged: Seligman SOTU


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