Killing Fulbright-Hays

21 May

Current competition: FY 2011. Cancelled.

CANCELLATION NOTICE: On September 17, 2010 a notice was published in the Federal Register inviting applications for new awards under the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad (DDRA) Program for FY 2011. The notice announced “an estimated $5,800,000 for awards under this competition. The actual level of funding, if any, depends on final Congressional action. However, we are inviting applications to allow enough time to complete the grant process if Congress appropriates funds for this program.

Congressional action on the FY 2011 budget substantially reduced funds available for grants from the Title VI Programs, including new grants under the DDRA Program. Therefore, no new awards will be made under the DDRA Program in FY 2011.

This is the sad news from the US Department of Education’s Fulbright-Hays website. Founded in 1946 by US Senator J. William Fulbright, the Fulbright-Hays provides vital funding for academics to conduct research in 155 countries throughout the former Soviet Union, Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  In the words of Senator Fulbright, “The Fulbright Program aims to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship” and “Educational exchange can turn nations into people, contributing as no other form of communication can to the humanizing of international relations.”

Today such statements, let alone from a US Senator, sound like from an alien world. What worked for the Cold War no longer applies in a world where neoliberalism is hegemonic.  Like so many sensible measures by the US Government, knowledge, reason, and compassion have gone out the window.  Replacing them are idiocy, insanity, and misanthropy.  Myopia dominates, not only in the realm of economics, but flowing from that, also in the commitment to maintain a foundation for culture and knowledge. To get a sense of how the Fulbright-Hays program promoted the latter, all one need is to look at what the grant’s alumni: Forty-three Nobel Prizes and seventy-eight Pulitzers, more than any other granting program. It has also helped produce countless works of scholarship, academics, both from the US and abroad, facilitated foreign language acquisition, and has given hundreds of thousands of students the opportunity to gain life altering experience in a foreign country.  Most of these benefits are vital intangibles to the overall benefit of American society.

But the fact that the benefits of Fulbright-Hays are intangible is exactly the problem. In a society that fetishizes quick profit, there is just less and less place, let alone patience, for the slow process of knowledge.  You can see this in so many places in American life, particularly in education.  The cancellation of this year’s Fulbright-Hays program is merely a symptom of a larger disease corroding the societal innards of the United States. Given the increasing number of Sinophobes in American society, one would think programs like Fulbright-Hays would be sacred cows.  Unfortunately, many of those same jingoists are also taking buzz-saws to the very programs that make the United States a global competitor in scholarship.

I was a Fulbright-Hays recipient. So was my wife.  And so were many of my friends and colleagues. Until this news, many more would have been Fulbrighters.  So the cancellation of this year’s grant has had a very personal affect.  All I can think about are the many people who were prepared to spend a year abroad only to have their academic future yanked from them.

Fulbright-Hays has had a direct impact on my life and I would like to think, as a result, have impacted the lives of others. In fact, this blog is a direct product of the grant.  I started this blog in 2005 because I was given the opportunity to research in Russia for a year.  The blog’s original mission was to share my thoughts and experiences in a country that I made a career studying. Because of the financial backing of Fulbright I was inspired to make a modest contribution to the deeper understanding of Russian history, politics, society and culture.

Now come the platitudes. Granted, Fulbright can’t be saved for 2011, but the fight must go on.  Write your representatives here, or better yet confront them to their face when they meet with their constituents. Write to journalists and encourage them to report on Fulbright and its importance.  Disseminate the importance of Fulbright-Hays via social networks. If you’re an alumnus, share the impact the grant had on your life, education, and career. If you belong to an organization where Fulbright is important, mobilize it and its members.

Remember this isn’t just about Fulbright.  Cuts in Title VI adversely impact numerous research and study centers and programs. They not only damage the ability of people like myself to carry out quality academic work, but prevent countless numbers of individuals from directly or indirectly benefiting from its funding.

The bleeding must stop.