Imagine that J. William Fulbright rose from the dead and became reacquainted with American colleges and universities. He would be impressed, perplexed, and perhaps angry. Rhodes scholar, University of Arkansas president, and chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1959 to 1974, Fulbright would be impressed, no doubt, with the exponential growth in efforts to “internationalize” higher education: projects to bring international perspectives into the undergraduate curriculum, promote study abroad, build academic partnerships with foreign universities, and even create American-style campuses around the world.
The senator would recognize the language: frequent references to higher education as a major national asset and a valuable instrument of U.S. foreign policy, and eloquent statements about the importance of cultural understanding for successful diplomacy and world stability — so similar to the purposes of the 1946 program that bears his name.
A closer look, however, might reveal a yawning gap between the familiar rhetoric and the new realities of American higher education in its global context. In the 1940s, the Fulbright program aimed to bring “a little more knowledge,” “more reason,” and “more compassion into world affairs.” The most recent and authoritative statements about American higher education’s roles and responsibilities in today’s world reflect attitudes and aims quite different from those of Senator Fulbright and his supporters.
In 2006, for example, the White House announced a Global Cultural Initiative “to educate young people and adults in the United States and abroad about the arts and cultures of other countries.” Click here to read the full story. (Subscription required)