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!