Blogs > Liberty and Power > Washington Kills Fulbright

May 23, 2011 9:36 pm

Washington Kills Fulbright

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 represents a disaster for doctoral students planning to work in Asia and Africa, and in other parts of the world that used to be considered vital for Americans to understand. 

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 sound like emanations from an alien world. What worked for the Cold War no longer applies in a world where neoliberalism is the sole criterion of judgments of value.  Like so many sensible measures by the US Government, knowledge, reason, and cross-cultural understanding 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 a symptom of a larger disease. 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.

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