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 friendship and peace.
– Senator J. William Fulbright in the Foreword to “The Fulbright Program: A History, 1965”
Here’s an item that’s been in the news recently and that encompasses the three Is of this venerable blog, Information, Insights & Intrigue: a proposed cut of 13% or $30.5 million – from $234.7 to $204.2 million – to the US government’s “flagship international educational exchange program”, namely, the Fulbright Program. (I have always considered this to be one of the US government’s most noble initiatives.)
To put this expenditure in perspective the cost of a MQ-9 Reaper Drone is $16.9 million, according to its manufacturer, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. This means that the current worldwide Fulbright budget equals the cost of about 14 MQ-9 Reaper Drones, one indication of just how much official USA loves its military hardware.
As Ann Jones, the author of They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story and a Fulbrighter herself (Norway 2012), points out in her recent piece, Washington’s Pivot to Ignorance, it’s also a sign of how much Washington “has come to rely on the ‘forward projection’ of military force to maintain its global position… the Fulbright Program may be the last vestige of an earlier, more democratic, equitable, and generous America that enjoyed a certain moral and intellectual standing in the world.” That, of course, was one of Senator J. William Fulbright’s goals in creating the program that bears his name. (Speaking of the “forward projection” of military power, the current defense budget is $640 billion.)
There is additional funding for several new programs, including $20 million for the Young African Leaders Initiative and $10 million for the Young South-East Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), both examples of the use of soft power as a tool/weapon to influence young leaders in strategically important countries, including Vietnam. This statement appears on the YSEALI website: Young people in Southeast Asia are working to make tomorrow a brighter day and the United States is here to help. When I read this, one my favorite idioms came to mind: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. (How nice of the US to want to help but, rest assured, there are always strings attached!)
American Fulbright University in Vietnam
Tucked away in Ann Jones’ article is this paragraph, which refers to the creation of the American Fulbright University in Vietnam, which was discussed during President Sang’s meeting with President Obama last summer in Washington, D.C.
The ECA also plans to spend $2.5 million next year in Vietnam on what seems to be a consolation prize: a new American Fulbright University, named in honor of Senator J. William Fulbright who created the flagship program that bears his name and ushered it through Congress back in 1946. Fulbright, an Arkansas Democrat, was then a first-term senator whose experience as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford had fostered his international perspective. He went on to spend 30 years in the Senate, becoming the longest serving chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the twentieth century’s most influential senators. Yet if the State Department has its way, the proposed university to be named in his honor will be paid for by money cut from the international exchange program he considered his most important achievement.
My question, dear reader, is this: What will a paltry $2.5 million buy, given the exorbitant cost of establishing a new university or, in this case, building on the foundation of an existing program, the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program (FETP) in Ho Chi Minh City? They would need at least tens of millions of dollars to get things moving. Why not forgo a few MQ-9 Reaper Drones for the sake of higher education and international educational exchange? State says that the $2.5 million is earmarked to support “academic freedom and autonomy in developing new curricula”, whatever that means. Stay tuned…
Bonus: Yussi Pick, a Fulbright alumnus from Austria who was a German teaching assistant at the College of Wooster, in Ohio, created the SaveFulbright.org website and petition, which has generated over 26,000 signatures as of today.
MAA (ardent admirer of J. William Fulbright, eloquent and outspoken Vietnam War opponent, author of The Arrogance of Power, etc.; one-time Fulbright adviser for US students/faculty; and the first Fulbright Senior Specialist to Vietnam, 2003)