In 1932, during the worst of hard times, mathematician Leonard Cohen worked Lexington’s Main Street dunning businessmen for contributions needed to bring a German refugee to the University of Kentucky. His efforts secured Richard Brauer, who taught here for only one semester, left and eventually became a professor at Harvard and winner of the National Medal of Science. Later, Brauer sent UK another immigrant professor, Fritz John, who had a distinguished career here that lasted a decade. A hint of John’s effectiveness arose in an interview of Nobel laureate and Lexington native William Lipscomb, a talented musician who had chosen to become a chemist.
When an interviewer asked why he decided to become a chemist, he answered: “A math class taught by a German named Fritz John.”
After World War II, Cohen left Kentucky and spent a decade or so building the math department at the University of Maryland that, in the late-1970s, hired a Russian immigrant named Mikhail Brin, whose son Sergey was then 6. Years later, Sergey Brin teamed with Larry Page to create Google.
Lamentably, there are immigrants who contribute little and a minuscule number who actually attack us. Such has been the case for more than two centuries, yet our society has continued to benefit enormously. So, vet immigrants and do so thoroughly, but with the understanding that perfection is not attainable.
Let’s not alter radically a system that, despite some rough patches, has served our nation so well.