You’ve probably heard of the Fulbright Scholarship (Shakespeare’s Globe is a designated program!), but who exactly was Senator Fulbright? This week would have been his 108th birthday so we thought we would remember his life, his work and his legacy. He championed study abroad and international exchange at a time of post war exhaustion and suspicion. Why would the government invest in a program such as the Fulbright Scholarship?
Educational exchange can turn nations into people, contributing as no other form of communication can to the humanizing of international relations. Man’s capacity for decent behavior seems to vary directly with his perception of others as individual humans with human motives and feelings, whereas his capacity for barbarism seems related to his perception of an adversary in abstract terms, as the embodiment of, that is of some evil design or ideology.
J. William Fulbright was born in Missouri and attended the University of Arkansas. He was elected to congress in 1942, and to the Senate in 1944 where he introduced the legislation for the Fulbright program in 1946. It passed unanimously. He served for almost thirty years, becoming one of the most influential and well regarded senators of his time; he was the only senator to vote against permanent appropriations for McCarthy’s Investigative Subcommittee and he argued with him throughout their time in the Senate about the value of the exchange program.
Amid rising Cold War tensions, the first participants went abroad in 1948, “funded by war reparations and foreign loan repayments to the United States.” Now, more than sixty years later, over 300,000 people have participated in the Fulbright exchange programs -students, teachers, scholars and professionals. Today we have programs in Russia, China, and even Cuba- a testament to his insistence upon engagement instead of isolation.
So happy birthday Senator Fulbright! See the links below for more reading and share your thoughts.
International educational exchange is the most significant project designed to continue the process of humanizing mankind to the point, we would hope, that men can learn to live in peace, eventually even to cooperate in constructive activities rather than compete in a mindless contest of mutual destruction. We must try to expand the boundaries of human wisdom, empathy and perception, and there is no way of doing that except through education.
i Speech to the Council for International Educational Exchange, 1983
iii Remarks on the 30th Anniversary of the Fulbright Program, 1976 v