Donald G. McNeil NYT Luncheon

New York Times Science Reporter Donald G. McNeil lectured at St. John’s University Tuesday, January 29, 2008 on the healthcare needs of impoverished nations and America’s role in their demise. The luncheon was part of the University’s Academic Lecture Series for Founder’s Week, which features the them “Building a Civilization Without Borders.”

The lecture took place in the UC Storm Center with nearly 200 students in attendance.

McNeil began his speech slowly with humorous narratives about his youth and how he arrived at a career in journalism. When the audience warmed up, he began to speak of the issues he often writes about.

He paralleled the political woes of his college years to modern-day students’: “We were in a war we didn’t understand and it seemed the government was run by overpaid, under-taxed men.”

He punctuated the feeling of déj√† vu, noting, “My father said I wouldn’t understand until I got older. Well, I am older and I am more outraged now than I was then.”

He spoke of his travels abroad, mostly to Africa and Eastern Europe, and shared his memories of the poverty and pestilence that plague the countries in those regions. McNeil made poignant remarks about the U.S.’s decrease in foreign aid, which is roughly 0.2%, saying, “We have not done any favors for ourselves.”

He commented that U.S. foreign aid has been at its lowest during the past half century. He noted that while the U.S. is one of the largest donors of foreign aid in dollars, it is the smallest contributor based on percentage. McNeil also stated that foreign aid is not even given out of kindness, but rather, out of guilt, and that U.S. “foreign aid is blood money”.

According to McNeil, these atrocities could be reversed if people protested it by organizing peacefully or by choosing careers that can undo corruption and reduce poverty. He said that students would be more eager to speak out against things if he or she were directly affected, like his generation and the military draft. All of the damage that has tainted the U.S.’s reputation, according to McNeil, can be mended within a generation or two if change begins today.

Sophomore Erin Keaney enjoyed the lecture.

“[The lecture] was good and really informative, but not in a way where he just rattled off a whole bunch of facts,” she said. “He used his own stories to explain what is going on so it made it more real.”