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Book of Matthew: The stimulus at Brandeis

Published: February 5, 2010
Section: Opinions


As you may have heard, Brandeis received $9 million from the $787 billion federal stimulus package Congress passed last year, enough to fund several research projects that would have otherwise been put on hold. But not everyone approves. In his Jan. 26 column in the Justice, staff writer Avi Snyder argued that Brandeis should have neither sought nor accepted the aid.

Though a self-identified Republican who claims to be “naturally suspicious of big government spending projects,” Snyder does not dispute the overall boosting effect a stimulus package can have on an ailing economy. Instead, he argues that the money Congress approved could have been better spent in other ways, taking issue with the fact that it is going toward research and not job creation. Blue-collar workers, he says, have been hit far harder than any other demographic in this downturn; therefore, the government should have used its emergency relief to help them reclaim their jobs before moving on to long-term projects. By refusing the money, he concludes, Brandeis would have fulfilled its commitment to social justice by siding with workers in need.

I disagree with Snyder’s argument for two reasons. First, I believe that the goals of the stimulus, as stated in its introduction, are exactly what we need in this recession: “To preserve and create jobs and promote economic recovery; to assist those most impacted by the recession; to provide investments needed to provide economic efficiency by spurring technological advances in science and health; to invest in transportation, environmental protection, and other infrastructure that will provide long-term economic benefits.” This clearly shows an effort on the part of the government to take a long-term, as well as a short-term, approach to the economic recovery. Both are needed in order to ensure that our economy emerges from this mess stronger and more resilient.

While it is not always publicized, funding for scientific research tends to drop during recessions. Businesses, low on cash and under pressure to keep from going lower, tend to focus on what they feel is most important for their bottom line. Like it or not, Brandeis is a business, and major research projects are expensive. Without help, we would have to cut programs.

However, the $9 million Brandeis received will provide a solution to that problem by funding all kinds of projects: $800,000 to study the role the nervous system plays in heart disease, $1 million to study the ways the brain stores memory, and $900,000 to hire a tenure-track biologist and study neural circuitry. In total, the money will allow for the creation or retention of 16 full-time research jobs.

It is on that note that I reject Snyder’s second argument—that by accepting the $9 million, Brandeis took away opportunities from blue-collar workers. We need to acknowledge that the money Brandeis received was going to go to a university to fund research whether we had put our name in for a bid or not. It is unlikely that the government had any plans to put that money into, say, unemployment benefits if Brandeis had chosen not to pursue it. It was up to the university to decide if it wanted to create jobs here or let another university jump on the opportunity.

We all benefit from scientific research. Those who carry it out get paying jobs. The rest of us receive a plethora of scientific information that eventually finds its way into new technologies. Regarding some of the Brandeis projects, it seems likely that some of this research will influence future medical technology. No one can deny that this will be useful to all of us down the road.

It is certainly admirable of Snyder to express his support for blue-collar workers in need. There is absolutely no question that the government should do whatever it can to make sure that Americans get their jobs back. And I think it is. The stimulus put billions of dollars toward short-term economic relief, and as you read this, the president and Congress are working on a federal jobs bill that will hopefully provide even more relief.

But we must not forget that it is also up to the government to help strengthen the economy as a whole. I’m glad that even in these difficult times, Brandeis took the initiative and dedicated itself to carrying out cutting-edge research that will benefit us all.