The Fulbright Legislation

The Fulbright legislation was established in 1946, slipping through the Senate without any debate.  The program was an amendment to legislation that originally allowed participants to pursue academic exchange funded by the sale of surplus war materiel, reparations and foreign loan repayment to the United States.  President Truman signed the Act on August 1, 1946.

The final legislative underpinnings of the Fulbright academic exchange program came with the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961, which is also known as the Fulbright-Hays Act (Senator Fulbright introduced it in the Senate and Representative Wayne Hays of Ohio, in the House).

President Harry Truman signing the Fulbright Act watched by Senator J. William Fulbright (center)

This law is still the basic charter for all U.S. Government sponsored educational and cultural exchanges.  It consolidated all previous laws on the subject, retaining the principal characteristics of the program as it was developed, and at the same adding some new features to accommodate progress.

The stated purpose of the Act summarizes the broad goals of the Fulbright Program: “…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 by means of educational and cultural exchange; to strengthen the ties which unite us with other nations by demonstrating educational and cultural interests, developments and achievements of the people of the United States and other nations, and the contributions being made toward a peaceful and more fruitful life for people throughout the world; to promote international cooperation for educational and cultural advancement, and thus, to assist in the development of friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations between the United States and other countries of the world.”

While hundreds of elementary and high school teachers have successfully exchanged classrooms for a year with foreign counterparts, many other foreign Fulbrighters have returned home to become prime ministers, cabinet members, diplomats, newspaper editors, and academicians…

Fulbright 50thAnniversary Commemorative Stamp

Past and present heads of government who have come to the United States on Fulbright include Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso, Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson, Italian Prime Minister Lamberto Dini, and Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou.  Some Fulbright alumni, like the United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, have become internationally prominent.

American Fulbrighters have included university presidents Derek Bok and Hanna Gray, economist Milton Friedman, scientist Joshua Lederberg, historian Henry Steele Commager, Senator Daniel Patrick Maynihan, novelists John Updike and Eudora Welty, composer Aaron Copland, actor Stacy Keach, and opera singer Anna Moffo.

In its more than 50 years, the Fulbright Program has enabled nearly a quarter of a million people from the United States and 140 countries to live and study in foreign nations. More than 120,000 foreign nationals have taught, studied or done research in the United States, and more than 90,000 Americans have gone overseas to do the same.  In fact, the Fulbright program has been referred to as “the largest and most significant movement of scholars across the face of the earth since the fall of Constantinople in 1453.”