Thursday, 25 August 2016

Women and the Fulbright Program

This week I submitted my revisions to the organizers of a forthcoming edited volume on Fulbright, based on the papers from last September's Fulbright Legacy conference at the University of Arkansas. My chapter's working title is "Fulbright Women in the Global Intellectual Elite"--it looks at women's contributions as grantees, administrators and as accompanying spouses of Fulbrighters.

I've got to say, I really enjoyed this one. There were so many stories and examples that I didn't have room to include (and I still went over the word limit...)--women whose time abroad changed their whole life trajectory, who accomplished amazing things, who were the first woman in their various fields. Ruth J. Simmons didn't make it into the final version, but she's definitely going in my book's women section. Her journey is brilliant--daughter of a Texas sharecropper, scholarship student at Dillard University, went on to earn a Masters and a doctorate from Harvard, and became the first African-American President of an Ivy League university. I love having extra material for future projects--this paper gave me about 2k words over the limit to tuck away in my 'leftovers' file!

I'm always relieved to finish a paper and submit it--hitting that 'send' button makes me feel 10 years younger--and I usually celebrate by taking the rest of the day off. This particular paper, though, has been really inspiring and rekindled my enthusiasm for my book edits. I went straight from sending off the paper to starting a new document and collating all of my new and revised bits and pieces.

This week I've run into another problem of access, just like I did back in 2011. It's so disheartening to be told that you can't do what you wanted to do, what you envisioned your project would include. It made me feel like my efforts on that particular sub-project had been a waste of time--something I have very little of to begin with these days. It's still up in the air, so I don't know what's going to happen with it, but at the moment it's frustrating and I just feel like I'm being thwarted at every turn: I can't get a job without publications so I try to work on those, and now I'm running into barriers with my publication.

After venting and having a little pity party, though, I decided to just carry on with whichever other bits I can work on in the meantime. I'm updating my lit review (the trouble with updating a PhD thesis is that I did my lit review in my first year, and a lot more research has been published since 2011...) and rethinking my "theoretical basis" chapter (which I never liked but it was a hoop I had to jump through to get my supervisors' approval...I'm not axing it altogether, though, because I've found some interesting new lit to add to it!).

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The Certain Demise of US PD in the (tiny) Hands of a President Trump...

I try not to dwell on the possibility of a President Trump too much--it's too painful and our efforts are better spent trying to prevent it from happening, rather than speculating about how horrible it would be. There are so many things to fear about a Trump presidency at home--racism, bigotry, homophobia, Islamophobia, sexism, etc.--that I think the media often ignores all of the scary things he would do overseas. He admires dictators, dismisses our allies in NATO, wants to ban Muslims from entering the US and build a wall on the Mexican border, among other outrageous statements. I have complete faith that the ban and wall are not going to happen, but one thing I'm equally sure of is the demise of U.S. public diplomacy under a President Trump. 

This morning I watched a brief interview with Madeleine Albright on MSNBC's Morning Joe. She made some excellent points about his "America First" foreign policy (if you can even call it a proposed "policy"...we haven't seen much in the way of concrete, clearly articulated policy statements coming from his campaign so far...). Secretary Albright pointed out that in the late 1930's, the U.S. was following an "America First" policy then, too--and she reminded us of that policy's disastrous effects on her native Czechoslovakia.

Tara D. Sonenshine, former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, wrote a great piece last month on the USC PD blog & Huffington Post about Trump's recent comments re: NATO.

"With careless rhetoric, Donald Trump risks destroying America’s power and credibility around the world at a time when Russian belligerence is high, and when Europe is struggling to contain the spillover from the Syrian war."

Since that time, he's only grown more and more outlandish in his statements--asking the Russian (or Chinese, he's not picky) hackers to find Clinton's missing e-mails, which constitutes treason. He's now said he was being 'sarcastic' and 'just joking', but nobody was laughing. 

"Asked if he was concerned that he was apparently encouraging Russia to spy on an American political party, he added: “It gives me no pause. If Russia or China or any of those country gets those emails, I’ve got to be honest with you, I’d love to see them.”" (Independent article)

The way he so casually throws country names around, as if Russia and China are interchangeable, demonstrates just how ignorant, and willfully ignorant, he is about the world. This is not the kind of person who has any interest in public diplomacy. Trump would hate "soft power" because it has the word "soft" in its name. He prefers "strong"--it's one of the most-used adjectives in his 200-word vocabulary. He would see it as a waste of time and money--'Why do you need to talk to foreigners? Who cares what they think of the US? America First!'

(Another reason the "America First" line sends shivers down my spine: MP Jo Cox's assassin shouted "Britain First"...that's the kind of simplistic, nationalistic, xenophobic rhetoric we're dealing with here) 

I want to say I'm confident that he won't win in November. The crazy, offensive things he says and does every day, the high-ranking Republicans refusing to support him--surely he can't win. But the polls are still too close. The latest Politico poll, taken after both conventions had wrapped up, has Clinton just 6 points ahead, 50% to 44%. After seeing both conventions, hearing both of Michelle Obama's speeches, listening to Chachi and Duck Dynasty vs. Katy Perry and Meryl Streep, watching fear-mongering vs. hope-mongering--only 50% of Americans support Clinton? 

How can public diplomacy practitioners explain that one to the world?

Monday, 1 August 2016

The Fulbright Program at 70

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Fulbright Act, the modest little amendment to the 1944 Surplus War Property Act that created America's oldest, largest and best-known educational and cultural exchange program.

The size & scope of the program has grown exponentially. In the first two years after the legislation was passed, exchange agreements were made with only nine countries. This wasn't for other countries' lack of interest in exchanges--the agreements were complicated to negotiate and could only be enacted in countries which held surplus World War II property, the only funding source available for these earliest exchanges. Today, the program is active in more than 160 countries around the world, and is funded by a combination (varying country by country) of U.S. congressional appropriations, domestic private donations, foreign government appropriations and foreign private donations. Participation figures have increased significantly, as well. The number of Fulbright grants went from just 84 in its first year to 4,182 by 1953, a nearly fifty-fold increase. Today, approximately 8,000 grants are awarded each year.

The context in which these exchanges operate has changed dramatically over the past seventy years. International students are no longer a rarity on the world's campuses. American news, media & consumer products are available nearly everywhere U.S. grantees go. When international students decide to go to the U.S., they have pre-formed ideas about their destination from American pop culture (to a much greater extent than they did in the 1940s and '50s). Among the many other effects of globalization, it has greatly influenced the educational exchange experience.

This 70th anniversary highlights the need for the history of the Fulbright Program to be updated. Today, I've launched a survey of Fulbright Program administrators around the world, asking for their thoughts on the purpose and impact of the exchange program. Their responses will contribute to my examination of the current state of the program in my forthcoming book. I'm aiming to submit my revisions back to my publisher by the end of the year, so expect further progress updates here on the blog.

For any Fulbright Program administrators, past or present, who are interested in contributing their thoughts, here is a link to the brief survey:

Thank you very much for your interest!

Monday, 25 July 2016


The European Union's exchange programme, the European Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students (ERASMUS), has had over 3.3 million participants since its establishment in 1987 (European Commission, 2014). The programme offers an interesting contrast with the Fulbright Program. The U.S. has, at times, struggled to balance foreign policy impacts on the programme with calls to preserve its apolitical, academic nature. The European Union, on the other hand, created its exchange program with explicitly political aims. It was part of a greater ‘People’s Europe’ project in the 1980's, created to strengthen public support for integration and foster a European identity amongst the young people who participated in the study abroad programme. Most studies have found that ERASMUS students feel more 'European' after the exchange experience, and often go on to internationally-oriented careers (Papatsiba, 2005; Teichler and Janson, 2007; Mitchell, 2012; etc.).

 In 2010, a surprising study found ERASMUS participants reporting lower levels of European identity at the end of their sojourn. Emmanuel Sigalas, the author from the Austrian Academy of Sciences, offers two potential explanations for this unexpected result. One possibility is that participants began the sojourn with a strong European identity, which meant “there is more scope for deterioration rather than improvement.” (Sigalas, 2010, p. 260). The more convincing explanation, however, is that the host country may have had a significant effect: the incoming students in this particular study were in the UK. “It is important to note that incoming students came to study in one of the most Eurosceptic countries of the EU, where…people are amongst the least likely in Europe to identify as European.” (ibid., pp. 260-261). 
Now, the interesting part about this finding, given the Brexit results: four out of the nine UK universities included in the study were located in places that voted to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum. This suggests that students may have been exposed to Eurosceptic attitudes during their sojourn, which could undermine attempts to forge a European identity. In hindsight, it appears that Sigalas' findings might be explained by the simple fact that his subjects went to places like Keele and Southampton, which voted to leave (69% and 53%, respectively).

On a related note, The Guardian had a piece on the uncertain post-Brexit future of ERASMUS yesterday.  The exchange programme relies on basic EU tenets, free movement of people and capital, to operate across the 27 member states. The UK might join the list of countries outside of the EU that participate in ERASMUS fully: Iceland, Macedonia, Liechtenstein, Norway and Turkey. Alternatively, it might go the way of Switzerland and be a "partner country" not a "programme country" (the long list of partner countries, from Albania to Zimbabwe, have a more limited scope in terms of the types of exchanges that they can host). I'm sure the ERASMUS generation who voted to remain in the EU are hoping for Britain to keep its "partner" status.

A couple of interesting bits from the article:

"Ironically, Erasmus has its genesis in the UK: its founding father was Dr. Hywel Ceri Jones, among the early senior British appointments to the EEC, to head its first education and training department. He had worked with Professor Asa Briggs at Britain’s first European Studies department at Sussex University, which inspired the European pilot in 1976, he explained this week: “the idea that the internationalisation of study had to be open to all disciplines, not just languages. So we brought in the scientists, social sciences and arts”.
Dr. Ceri Jones, who went on to become Director General for employment and social policy at the European Commission, told the Observer: “Erasmus will still flourish in Europe, but UK universities have been a powerful magnet, because of the English language. I feel bereaved by Brexit, and if it leads to the end of freedom of movement and exclusion of the UK from Erasmus, this would be devastating – a tragedy of staggering proportions for universities throughout the country, for the structured internationalisation of our academic institutions, which is what Erasmus is all about”."

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

CPAC Conference, Brexit and Trump

Closing discussion with Lance Bennett and Hendrik Bang

For the past two days I've been at a conference at the University of York, marking the launch of their Sociology department's new research centre, the Centre for Political Youth Culture and Communication (CPAC). It was a fantastic conference, with a wide range of studies and approaches from various disciplines. The keynotes were given by stars of political communication--Lance Bennett, Donatella della Porta, and Hendrik Bang. I met some lovely people, including two PhD students from my own department whom I hadn't met before, and had a "small world" encounter with Sabine Lang, whose introductory European Studies course I took at UW about nine years ago now. That class made a big impression on me--confirming that I wanted to do European Studies, sending me to Bath on the Euromasters exchange, and, of course, living in Europe for the past 8 years.

There was a lot of talk about Brexit at the conference. It's very timely to be discussing youth and political participation, as 75% of 18-25 year olds voted to remain in the EU, while the over 65's voted overwhelmingly to leave (I saw the figure 90% in Hendrik Bang's talk). This division is so sad for the UK, for Europe, and really for the world in general. We still don't know exactly what's going to happen, or when--to be fair, it's only been 3 weeks tomorrow, it just feels like longer! It was clear that all of the experts there--from political science, sociology, political communication, etc.--were all very concerned about the future.

There was also a lot of talk about Trump, speaking of concern--this week's Republican National Convention is a train wreck. So awful, but we can't look away. You can clearly see how divided the party is, and how those in charge are trying their best to just soldier on, regardless of how they feel about Trump. His 60 Minutes interview with Mike Pence demonstrated that Trump really is the narcissistic, bigoted playground bully we thought he was. He barely let the man get a word in--Penn and Teller have a more equitable relationship. Melania Trump's (speech writers') plagiarism of Michelle Obama's 2008 DNC speech is a symptom of a larger problem--they clearly just don't know what they're doing. They need handlers, political strategists--where's their Karl Rove? But the truth is, they're not getting that kind of support for two reasons:
1) Bullies don't ask for, nor accept, help.
2) the RNC doesn't want him to win. They know he's dangerous for the party, the country, the world, and they're not going to help him.

Both Brexit and Trump have vitally important public diplomacy implications. The world watched the referendum and they're watching the US, too. Britain's reputation will suffer over this. As John Oliver said, after showing a clip of a racist UKIP-affiliated woman, not everything sounds smarter in a British accent. The pound is weaker, there's been a rise in hate crime and some universities have already seen a decrease in internationally collaborative projects due to fears of Brexit's impact on funding. European students are already pulling out of UK universities. These instant, detrimental impacts on UK academia show why everyone at the conference was so worried--even the Australians, Brazilians and Americans I spoke with, who are already non-EU, are worried, because we know it's a global issue.

America's global reputation is already suffering with Trump as a candidate--and the public diplomacy fallout of a Trump presidency would be far worse. It's also suffering because of America's gun culture. As a British woman said to me yesterday, why can't they do anything to sort it? "They" includes President Obama, the 535 members of Congress, the American people through grassroots organisations--anybody. Why can't anybody do anything--"anything" being universal background checks, preventing felons and domestic abusers and 'no fly list' people from getting guns, banning assault weapons--anything. When the news about The United States is always another shooting victim(s)--be it a black man, a police officer, a gay man or a first grader--and nobody does anything to keep it from happening again, that doesn't look good to the rest of the world. If you want to "Make America Great Again", passing some common sense gun control legislation would be a great place to start.

I'd like to close with something more positive, but to be fair, the conference closed with a talk from Hendrik Bang on political participation"After Brexit", and it wasn't all that optimistic. I suppose there is hope, though, in the fact that the youth DO want international cooperation, and DO believe in the EU's motto, Unity in Diversity. This generation, and the future leaders who are currently growing developing in it, will support a very different agenda to that of their grandparents.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Two Years On

Today's been two years since my viva.

On the one hand, some days I feel like an absolute failure because I'm not employed full-time yet and I haven't published my dissertation yet, and I only have two journal articles published (and they're not even in top journals). I look at and beat myself up for not being qualified to apply for anything. My mind goes to a dark place and I regret doing the PhD--I tell myself it was a waste of time, I have over $200k in debt and I can't even find a job. I look at George, my only accomplishment of the past 2 years, and think it was all pointless. I spend most of my days reading Dr. Seuss instead of being Dr. Bettie.

On the other hand, I've got the "Dr." title and they can't take that away from me. My hard work and $200k+ has bought me the right to use that title, even if I never work again for the rest of my life. I've got a manuscript under revision for publication and a couple of working papers for future journal articles (and they'll be sent to top journals, too!). I occasionally see posts to apply for and they ignite that fire inside me again. They get me excited about research proposals and they make me dream about relocating and new possibilities. I look at George and think how cool it is for him to grow up with academic parents. I love spending my days having picnic lunches with him on the University quad, taking photos of him with red brick backdrops, reading journal articles with him snuggled up against me sleeping.

Two whole years/only two years...

Friday, 20 May 2016

What working from home really looks like...

The baby's sleeping on me in the Ergo, leaving my hands free to type and the cat is sat on the side of the laptop. She'll ignore me all day until I try to get some work done...

Today I had a working from home breakthrough: I left the baby to play on the floor by himself while I answered a few emails. Yes, he pulled all of the contents of the shelving unit out and yes, he put a lot of inedible things in his mouth, but amazingly, nothing was broken or damaged. It was just messy, and for once I just let him make a mess instead of trying to clean up after him constantly (which is futile). And even though I feared that I might be neglecting him, George was having a great time--he's not as needy as I assumed. When I was done with my emails, I tidied up and we went for a walk. I was able to enjoy spending time with him more now that I had a zero inbox and nothing hanging over my head.

I'm loving this age--he's finally able to entertain himself for a bit. He's sleeping better now, too, which means I'm sleeping better and am finally able to think again. We're only up once in the night now, around 4 am, which still sounds horrible but trust me, it's a huge improvement. I'm starting to feel a little bit optimistic about getting back to writing again.

Now if I can just get the cat to stop sitting on my notes...