In a preliminary success for the #SaveFulbright campaign, the Senate State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee rejected the proposed Fulbright budget cuts on June 19th. In early March, the President’s budget request for the coming fiscal year called for an unprecedented $30.5 million reduction in funding for the Fulbright exchange program despite a $17.9 million overall increase in funding requests for Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs. However, in addition to the refusal of the proposed 13% cut of the original FY14 budget of $234.7 million, the Senate subcommittee actually recommended a slight increase of $2.2 million.
Naturally, the initial budget request prompted substantial backlash from the Fulbright community and alumni, inciting the trending #SaveFulbright and an online petition which has received almost 30,000 signatures. The revised bill echoes the public’s concerns, justifying the amendments by noting that “in recent years the Department of State has justified reductions to one-way exchanges with a specific regional focus on the grounds that the Fulbright Program offers bi-directional exchanges with greater flexibility and strong country and university support. Yet in the fiscal year 2015 budget request the Department proposes to reduce the Fulbright Program to fund region-specific exchanges. This reversal indicates a lack of long-term planning.”
Referred to as the “flagship international educational exchange program of American cultural diplomacy,” Fulbright has persevered through almost 70 years since its inception in 1946 and now spans across at least 155 other countries, funding nearly 8,000 international exchanges each year. In addition, Fulbright has produced some of the most tangible benefits that we have seen from a cultural diplomacy campaign – over 325,000 total alumni, of which there are 53 Nobel Prize winners, 28 MacArthur Foundation fellows, 80 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 29 former heads of state. Why then would the government even consider siphoning funds from such a storied program during a time in which we are becoming increasingly committed to public diplomacy?