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James William (Bill) Fulbright was an outstanding internationalist, educationist, and politician. Fulbright taught law briefly at George Washington University and the University of Arkansas, and then was president of the University of Arkansas for two years. He followed his time as an educator with over 30 years of service in both houses of the United States Congress. Regardless of his position, Fulbright fought for education, intellectual freedom, and an international community of support and understanding.

Fulbright (9 April 1905–9 February 1995) was born in Sumner, Missouri but was raised in the small university town of Fayetteville, Arkansas. His parents, Jay and Roberta, instilled him with a strong appreciation of education while growing up. He began his schooling at Peabody Hall Elementary, a laboratory school run by the University of Arkansas College Of Education. While attending the University of Arkansas, Fulbright was a star football player, student body president, and was selected as a Rhodes Scholar following his graduation in 1925. While attending school at Oxford, he explored England and made many trips to continental Europe. During these trips he gathered an appreciation for other cultures and realized how interdependent nations had become (Woods 1995).

After returning to America, he earned his law degree from George Washington University, and worked as a special attorney in the Justice Department Anti-trust Division and as an instructor at the University’s Law School. He returned to Arkansas in 1936, and began teaching law part-time at the University of Arkansas. He was appreciated by his students and felt universities “can make the students realize the importance of good government . . . and can induce the best of them to enter political life as a career” (Woods 1995, 57).

When the president of the University of Arkansas died in an automobile accident, Fulbright, at the age of 34, was named the youngest president of a state university at that time. With Fulbright as President, the University created six scholarships for outstanding students from Central and South America, and established a retirement age for professors and made it more difficult for them to be dismissed. Previously, professors were only offered one year appointments with no guarantee of keeping their job the next school year (Hale 1948). This security allowed them to more freely express their ideas without fear of repercussions. A ongoing pursuit of Fulbright’s was to challenge and encourage exceptional students (Hale, 1948). He viewed them as the future of American and international democracy.

Fulbright’s mother owned the local newspaper, The Fayetteville Daily Democrat, and was a very influential woman in Arkansas politics. She used her political clout and access to the press to thrust Carl Bailey into the Governor’s mansion. Bailey was defeated by Homer Adkins, who made good on his campaign promise to “Take the University out of Politics” (Leflar 1972, 176). Several board members were forced to retire and the new board fired Fulbright on commencement day in 1941.
Shortly after leaving the university, Fulbright took his own advice on civic duty and ran for the United States House of Representatives. In 1942, he was elected to represent the mostly rural 3rd Congressional District. After serving for only one term, he attained a senatorial seat.

Upon arrival in Washington, Fulbright established himself as a major force in post-World War II peace discussions. As an outspoken internationalist, he fought for and sponsored the Fulbright-Connally Resolution in 1943 that supported the United States’ entrance into an international collective security organization. In March 1944, Roosevelt selected Fulbright to represent the United States at the Conference of Allied Ministers of Education. He was elected chairman and helped draft the charter for the United Nations Organization for Education and Cultural Reconstruction. The charter called for a swift rebuilding of the educational systems in occupied countries, and economic support for affected educational systems. Fulbright believed that only an educated class of citizens could protect the world stage from turmoil. The educational systems of Europe needed to be rebuilt quickly to provide stability in the region.

Fulbright’s travels in Europe during his time as a Rhodes Scholar cultivated his acute respect for other cultures and international issues. In 1946, he sponsored a bill to allow countries to repay their war debts to America by supporting a scholar exchange program that expanded the chance for a new generation of students to become immersed in another culture. This program allowed university students to study abroad, foreign students to study in the United States, and university professors to lecture or perform research overseas. On 1 August 1946, President Harry Truman signed the Surplus Property Act into law. This program was strengthened by subsequent legislation, which resulted in the creation of the Fulbright Scholars’ Exchange Program. More than 212,000 students participated in this program between 1949 and 1991 (Bacon, Davidson, & Keller 1995). The Fulbright Exchange Program not only created an opening for students and professors to study abroad, but it set a precedent for all future exchange programs and established higher education as a Federal priority.
During a period of fear of communism and international threats to the American ideal, Fulbright stood his ground (Johnson & Gwertzman 1968). He argued that the Fulbright Exchange Program would increase knowledge and appreciation of America abroad while giving American scholars a deeper understanding of other cultures and international politics. Unafraid to challenge established legislators, Fulbright spoke out against Joseph McCarthy’s communist-hunting John Birch Society, and uncovered the secret bombing in Cambodia during the 1960s.

Throughout his career, Fulbright championed international education. He believed that an international community with open dialogue was necessary in a post-World War II society. Thus, he spoke out against intellectual repression at the University of Arkansas and intellectual repression by the government. As a strong believer in education, Fulbright felt that the purpose of education was not “to turn one’s brains into money” (Woods 1995, p.57) but rather to create a liberally educated complete individual.

Contributed By: Chuck Kremer, The University of Texas at Austin

References
Bacon, D. C., R. H. Davidson, and M. Keller. 1995. The Encyclopedia of the United States Congress. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Hale, H. 1948. University of Arkansas, 1871-1948. Fayetteville, Ark.: Univ. of Arkansas Alumni Association.
Johnson, H. B., and B. M. Gwertzman. 1968. Fulbright: the dissenter. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
Leflar, R. A. 1972. The first 100 years; centennial history of the University of Arkansas. Fayetteville, Ark.: University of Arkansas Foundation.
Woods, R. B. 1995. Fulbright: a biography. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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