For many, spring is the season of emerging flowers and pastel colors. For some Hamilton College seniors, it means anticipating decisions from the Fulbright Commission on their applications for one of the approximately 1,900 research, study, and teaching grants for recent American college graduates and graduate students. Receiving a grant is an incredible accomplishment, and Hamilton boasts numerous Fulbright scholars among its alumni.
The Fulbright United States Student Program is the largest U.S. international exchange program and awards about 8,000 grants annually to people in more than 160 countries. It is a key institution in the creation of a global community because it sends so many people across the world to learn different languages, experience new cultures, and develop ties with unfamiliar communities. Fulbright alumni become heads of state, leading government officials, recipients of the Nobel Prize, and accomplished professionals in a wide range of disciplines including STEM fields, the arts, athletics, and education.
Yet despite these credentials and bipartisan congressional support for the Fulbright Program, the Trump administration is proposing to cut 71 percent of its bureau’s funding in the 2019 budget. The program’s primary source of funding is the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. A 71 percent cut to its budget would destroy the program, causing a devastating loss to globalization and diplomacy.
In the wake of World War II, Congress created the Fulbright Program after Senator J. William Fulbright introduced a bill that would use leftover war property to fund “the promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.” It was forged in the spirit of internationalism and was intended to develop bilateral relationships between citizens and governments across different cultures.
Gutting the program financially would signal the end of much of America’s commitment to cooperate and interact with an increasingly interconnected global culture. It would create a vacuum in the U.S. international exchange program and eliminate invaluable opportunities for American citizens to engage with the world.
Obliterating the Fulbright Program has nothing to do with the administration’s “America First” policy goals. President Trump complains of unfair trade deals and the demise of American hegemony, but isolating America from intercultural exchange does nothing to help his goals in these areas. As U.S. allies threaten to economically abandon the United States over such decisions as provoking an impending trade war with China, destroying an international exchange program that encourages global cooperation would be foolish and irresponsible.
The current administration should not rob the world of the ample opportunities the Fulbright Program provides to engage with, and learn from, citizens of other nations. In response to the threatened cuts, organizations like the Fulbright Association (alumni of the program) are urging the restoration of funding. They encourage anyone who believes it should survive to contact their congressional representative, and to participate in the social media campaign using the hashtag #Standforfulbright.