Sometimes, it helps to start at the beginning. Seven months into my tenure as Executive Director of the Fulbright Association, I returned to our roots as a community — the university town of Fayetteville, Arkansas. J. William Fulbright spent most of his life on the campus of the University of Arkansas before leaving for Washington and congressional legend. Born in Missouri, Fulbright was just a one-year-old infant when his family moved to Fayetteville in 1906. He was on the university campus, beginning with Peabody Hall (below), from elementary school through college.
The University of Arkansas has a grand tradition, dating back to its opening: every graduate has her or his name inscribed on walkways around the campus, and you can find Fulbright’s name near the “Old Main,” the heart of the campus and the home of the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. I came to the Old Main for many reasons. I like to call the University of Arkansas our “mothership,” as Fulbright’s vision of global exchange began with his experiences on this campus, as a student and later as the university’s president. I wanted to meet the dean of the Fulbright College, Todd Shields. Dean Shields has injected creative thinking into the college, and we discussed how the Association could partner with them. For instance, they are willing to help us promote the Fulbright Prize and support our work translating lists of Fulbrighters into a directory with contact information. The University is generously sponsoring a reception at our National Conference, and I wanted to thank Dean Shields and Provost Jim Coleman, whom I also met, for their support.
I came to Old Main for personal reasons, too. The last time I was here, the university — with President Bill Clinton as a keynote speaker — dedicated the portrait of the senator that stands before Old Main, sculpted by my mother, the late Gretta Bader. It was a powerful, joyful moment for me.
My day on the campus was packed, thanks to the hard work of DeDe Long (left), who is president of the Arkansas chapter and incoming member of our Board of Directors. DeDe picked me up in Little Rock the day before and joined me in meetings with the mayor and the governor of Arkansas, both of whom are deeply committed to international trade. We also enjoyed a visit to Heifer International, based in Little Rock. DeDe has helped keep the university strongly connected to the Fulbright legacy, often in partnership with Hoyt Purvis (below right), the Association’s Distinguished Fellow and a longtime staffer of Senator Fulbright. DeDe, Hoyt, and I toured the university’s extensive collection of Fulbright’s papers.
Other highlights of the day included a lively discussion with the leadership of the Arkansas Chapter. We discussed the importance of advocacy — the full Arkansas congressional delegation is a bedrock of support for the Program — and of opportunities to do more community outreach, as with the Fulbright-in-the-Classroom pilot initiative. DeDe timed my visit to the university to coincide with an inspiring reception for visiting Fulbright scholars from dozens of countries worldwide. In my remarks, I reminded them of their critical role in helping Americans to better understand their cultures. While the Program may be grounded in research, it is also a diplomatic program to deepen intercultural respect. Finally, DeDe, Hoyt, and I paid our respects at Fulbright’s grave at the nearby Evergreen Cemetery, taking the day full circle.
As Fulbright’s death in 1995 recedes in time, it will become an increasing challenge to remember that the international exchange program is not a “brand” — it was an idea from a real person. We are not trustees of a public policy as much as we are successors of a man from Fayetteville. When Fulbright left the Senate in 1974, the program lost its best advocate. So it is no coincidence that the Association was founded three years later, to fill that role and widen the impact of the program.
If you need a shot of inspiration to take Fulbright’s baton and run with it, head to Fayetteville.
—John Bader, Ph.D., Executive Director