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AN ESSAY ON IRELAND AND J. WILLIAM FULBRIGHT’S EDUCATIONAL VISION* BERNADETTE WHELAN in 1946, US Senator J. William Fulbright successfully steered a bill through Congress, which established a federally funded educational exchange program . But for Fulbright, a Democrat, the bill’s provisions involved more than just enabling American university scholars and students to visit other countries and non-Americans to visit the United States. Fulbright also believed that cultural exchange could assist countries’ understanding of each other, reduce misconceptions, and ultimately improve international relations. Consequently, his bill had two objectives: to provide financial support for research and to assist America’s foreign relations process. In the early 1950s, Ireland inadvertently became involved in the Fulbright program, and its experience sheds light on the winding up of Ireland’s involvement in the European Recovery Program (ERP), on successive Irish governments’ views of university scholarship and its internationalization, and on the establishment of a Fulbright program, which became fundamentally different from what its sponsor intended. FULBRIGHT’S PROGRAM The origins of the Fulbright program lie not only in the horrific implications of the nuclear bomb and the need to find new ways of thinking about international relations, but also in J. William Fulbright’s own experience as a young man.1 Fulbright became convinced of the value of AN ESSAY ON IRELAND AND J. WILLIAM FULBRIGHT’S EDUCATIONAL VISION 153 *I wish to acknowledge the assistance and support of Dr. John Logan, Professor Nicholas Rees, and Ms. Rachel Fortrie, Department of Government and Society, University of Limerick . Mr. Derek Hannon, Executive Secretary, Ireland-United States Commission for Educational Exchange, Department of Foreign Affairs, provided me with valuable data and information. Financial assistance was obtained from the School of Irish Studies Foundation , Ireland. 1 J. William Fulbright, Price of Empire (London: Fourth Estate, 1989), 209-10. foreign travel and international education as a Rhodes Scholar in the University of Oxford between 1925 and 1931. He found Oxford “a new and strange world . . . a great cultural shock” and was embarrassed at his own intellectual inadequacy. He “began to read and become a little more knowledgeable ” and he concentrated on history.2 This experience influenced his later thinking on the impact that educational exchange programs could have “on the attitudes of individuals interacting with different cultures.”3 At the end of the Second World War when Fulbright had just entered the Senate, he decided to promote an educational exchange program but had to get political support and, more importantly, to identify and secure sources of funding. Realizing that he would not be able to get a separate appropriation through Congress for a purely cultural purpose, he seized on the idea that foreign credits might be used to fund a program. The 1944 Surplus Property Act had legislated that countries that still had and needed American wartime supplies could pay for them in credits. By using some of these credits, the program would not involve additional expenditure by the Treasury, an important “selling point” with Fulbright’s political colleagues.4 The central concerns of the program attracted little attention because the precedent had been established during World War II of government investing in and recognizing the value of research and graduate education, particularly in the areas of defense and security. This view prevailed after 1945, and Fulbright’s bill was never debated on the Senate floor. But criticism of it soon emerged; Senator Kenneth McKellar, a Tennessee Democrat , stated that he would have objected to it on its potential to corrupt. He believed that “it was dangerous to expose young Americans to countries whose governments advocated socialism, communism, or any alternative to our American way.”5 This re-assertion of pre-war isolationist ideas combined with an emerging Cold War anticommunism nearly derailed Fulbright’s proposal. But it was passed by the House after the intervention of William Clayton, Under Secretary of State, who believed in the idea. The Fulbright Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act was signed by President Truman on 1 August 1946 (Public Law 584), just before the Congressional recess, and the Board of Foreign Scholarships was established to direct the program in the US. AN ESSAY ON IRELAND AND J. WILLIAM...


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