James William Fulbright

James William Fulbright (1905-1995) was as educator and politician, who, while a United States senator, sponsored the Fulbright Act of 1946, providing funds for the exchange of students, scholars, and teachers between the United States and other countries.

William Fulbright, politician, lawyer, educator, and writer, was born on April 9, 1905, in Sumner, Missouri. He received his bachelor of arts degree at the University of Arkansas in 1925. Attending Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar, he won a bachelor of arts degree (1928) and a master of arts degree (1931). During the following year's tour of Europe he developed his interest in international affairs. In 1932 he married Elizabeth Williams, and they had two daughters. George Washington University awarded Fulbright a bachelor of laws degree in 1934. After serving as a special attorney in the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice (1934-1935), he joined the faculties of George Washington University (1935-1936) and the University of Arkansas (1936-1939). Fulbright served as president of the University of Arkansas from 1939 to 1941.

A member of the Democratic party, Fulbright entered the U.S. Congress as an Arkansas representative in 1943 during World War II. That September the House of Representatives adopted the Fulbright resolution that favored creation of the "appropriate international machinery with power adequate to establish and to maintain a just and lasting peace," as well as United States participation in that effort. Fulbright entered the Senate in 1944 and gained much influence during his long tenure (1959-1974) as chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.


The Mutual Educational Exchange Program

The Mutual Educational Exchange Program, the Fulbright Act, was established by the U.S. Congress on August 1, 1946. This legislation authorized the use of U.S.-owned foreign currencies obtained from the sale of post-war surplus military equipment to finance grants for Americans to study, teach, or conduct research abroad, as well as for foreign citizens to study in the U.S. Since 1949 more than 100,000 nationals have participated in these exchange programs. It was later administered under the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961 which provides the legislative authority for the program. The main objective of this Act is "to enable the government of the United States to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries … and thus to assist in the development of friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations between the United States and other countries of the world." The program operates in more than 135 countries and binational commissions were established by executive agreements in 43 countries. The J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (BFS) in Washington, D.C. is composed of 12 educational and public leaders appointed by the President of the United States. It has statutory responsibility for the selection of all academic exchange grantees, the establishment of policies and procedures, and the supervision of the Fulbright Program worldwide.


Fulbright's Influence on Foreign Relations

Fulbright rose to prominence as a member of the Senate Banking and Currency Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee. As chairman of the former committee he conducted an investigation of the stock market in 1955. But Fulbright emerged primarily as one of the Senate's leading critics of American foreign policy, which he believed to be unnecessarily rigid and unproductive. In 1959, becoming chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Fulbright urged Congress to widen the scope of executive action and criticized the State Department for its rigidity in negotiations with the Communist powers. On domestic issues Fulbright remained moderate; on civil rights he was orthodox from a Southern point of view, yet without a trace of bigotry.

As a U.S. senator, Fulbright gained much influence during his long tenure (1959-1974) as chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He became a leading critic of U.S. foreign policy, particularly of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. By 1963 the problem of Vietnam was beginning to dominate America's external affairs. Long convinced that American fears of communism were being transformed into a positively antirevolutionary posture in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, Fulbright attempted to curb the foreign interventions of the Lyndon Johnson administration. In his 1965 committee hearings on Johnson's decision to send troops into the Dominican Republic, he argued that the President's advisors had exaggerated Communist participation in the Dominican revolution. In 1966 Fulbright's committee conducted a search investigating U.S. involvement in Vietnam and held hearings on U.S. relations with China. Eventually he denied the President's right to send American forces into hostilities without congressional approval. Despite his attacks on the Vietnam War, Fulbright won his fifth term as senator in 1968 with a surprising 59 percent of the Arkansas vote.

During the mid-1960s Fulbright published his foreign policy views in Prospects for the West (1963), Old Myths and New Realities (1964), and The Arrogance of Power (1967). Running for his sixth term as senator in 1974, Fulbright was defeated in the Arkansas Democratic primary, and he resigned from the U.S. Senate at the end of the year.


U.S.-Polish Educational Exchanges

The Office for U.S.-Polish Educational Exchanges was established on March 22, 1990, after a binational agreement was signed between the governments of Poland and the United States, later known as the Polish-U.S. Fulbright Commission. The Commission's mission is to offer qualified Polish and American nationals the opportunity to exchange significant knowledge and educational experience in fields of consequence to the two countries. It also aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of Polish-American relations and to broaden the means by which the two societies can further their understanding of each other's culture. The Polish government acknowledged the importance of the Commission's work by contributing to its funding. The Ministry of National Education provides the office space for the Commission, stipends for American students, salaries and housing for American scholars, travel costs for Polish grantees, and a two-week orientation program for U.S. grantees.


Polish Fulbright Alumni Association

In January 1992 the Polish-U.S. Fulbright Commission put notices in a number of Polish newspapers inviting former fulbrighters to contact the Commission. Some 160 alumni declared their wish to join the association. The Polish Fulbright Alumni Association (PFAA) and its Statute were registered by the Polish Court in February 1993. At its first meeting it was announced that Fulbright had been awarded Poland's highest award for a foreigner, the Order of Service of the Polish Republic. During a special ceremony at the Polish Embassy in Washington in December 1993, a delegation of PFAA and the Commission handed the Cross to Fulbright's wife, who represented her husband.

When Fulbright died in February of 1995, more than 250,000 scholarships had been awarded bearing his name.


Further Reading on James William Fulbright

The full-length biography of Fulbright is Haynes Johnson and Bernard M. Gwertzman, Fulbright: The Dissenter (1968). Karl E. Meyer, ed., Fulbright of Arkansas: The Public Positions of a Private Thinker (1963), contains a brief biography and a selection of Fulbright's public statements.