J. William Fulbright, Finland, and Tampere (Hopkins)

J. William Fulbright, Finland, and Tampere

John D. Hopkins
Invited Article for Yliopistouutiset, The Tampere University Newsletter
April, 1992

On April 9, the University of Tampere will confer upon former U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright an Honorary Doctorate of Letters. In awarding this degree, on the Senator's 87th birthday, the University will honor one of the past half century's most influential figures in both higher education and diplomacy. It is an honor that the Senator himself will well appreciate, for there is a special relationship between the international educational exchange programs which bear his name, and both Finland and the University of Tampere.

J. William Fulbright was already a distinguished educator, with personal experience in international studies, before beginning his political career. At the age of 20 he was awarded a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship for advanced study at Oxford University in England. For a young man from a small town in Missouri who had not yet been even to the major cities of his own country, it was a powerful and formative experience. Fulbright remained at Oxford for four years, earning two degrees, touring much of Europe, and returning to the United States convinced of the value of living and studying abroad.

Back in America, his career developed rapidly. He moved from professor at age 26 to President of the University of Arkansas at the age of 34, becoming in 1939 the youngest-ever head of a state university. Turning to politics, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1942. Two years later he was elected junior Senator from the State of Arkansas. He was to remain in the U.S. Senate for 30 years, the last 15 years of which he served as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In 1945, in only his second year in the Senate, Fulbright introduced the legislation for which his name is now known throughout the world. It was two weeks after the atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. The war in Europe had already ended, and the Pacific War was soon to end. At issue before the Senate was millions of dollars of surplus military equipment abroad, which now had either to be stored or be shipped back to the U.S., seemingly in either case at great expense to U.S. taxpayers.

Fulbright proposed a third alternative. Convinced that education was the key to understanding; that international understanding might follow if we could learn to know each other as fellow human beings -- as people rather than nations; and that the future of humanity laid not only in education and understanding but also in the prevention of nuclear holocaust; he proposed together with Congressman Wayne Hays an amendment to the War Surplus Act that surplus materials would simply be given to foreign governments who needed them in return for U.S. students being able to study at universities in their countries.

The proposal was based on Fulbright's lifelong belief in the dynamics of education, empathy, and human understanding. Or as he put it, "If large numbers of people can learn to know and understand people from nations other than their own, they might develop a capacity for empathy, a distaste for killing other men, and an inclination for peace."

The Fulbright-Hays amendment was a classic political bargain in which everybody got something: the U.S. got rid of its costly surplus and gained expanded educational opportunity for American students and scholars. The foreign governments involved got usable military equipment at no direct cost, and also benefitted from both the presence of American students at their universities and, through additional Fulbright legislation which followed, the opportunity to send their own scholars to the United States.

Thus began a succession of reciprocal exchange initiatives funded under the Fulbright name which, in the words of one of Senator Fulbright's former Oxford instructors, has been "responsible for the largest and most significant movement of scholars across the earth since the fall of Constantinople in 1453."

Fulbright and Finland

Finland formally joined the Fulbright program in 1952, and while Finland is but one of 120 countries participating in Fulbright exchanges, it has a record of exceptional accomplishment. Nearly 3000 Finnish scholars, including a remarkable percentage of Finland's professors, politicians, and leading cultural figures, have gone to the U.S. via Fulbright programs, and some 1000 American scholars have researched, studied or taught in Finland.

But for William Fulbright, perhaps even more significant than the quality or quantity of Finnish exchanges has been the example Finland has provided in its support and expansion of his basic exchange concept. First, repayments of Finland's 1923 post-war debt to the United States were converted in 1949 into the ASLA (Amerikan Suomen Lainan Apurahat) fund to enable Finnish-American exchanges even before Finland formally joined the program.

Then in 1975, at Finland's initiative, the remaining $3,000,000 of the debt was used to establish the new Finland-America Educational Trust Fund. Interest from this Fund now pays more than 60% of the costs of the Finnish Fulbright program, and has enabled Finland to maintain both more stable exchange levels and a higher per capita exchange proportion than most of the 120 other participating countries.

As Fulbright observed in 1987, at the 35th anniversary of the program in Finland, "the Finnish example has given the program great prestige" and has provided a remarkable parallel to his own original concept. Finland's establishment of the Trust Fund with its debt repayments was "a symbolic act of converting the debris of war into a constructive effort to bring about future peace."

Fulbright and Tampere

Senator Fulbright is also well aware of the contributions of Tampere University in supporting the Fulbright exchange efforts both in Finland and beyond. During the 12 years between 1978 and 1990 that it was represented on the Finnish Fulbright Board, Tampere developed models for exchange orientations and publications that became used both by other universities in Finland and other Fulbright Commissions throughout Europe.

Tampere was the first Finnish member of NAFSA: Association of International Educators, an organization established in 1948 with Fulbright's assistance to develop infrastructural support in higher education worldwide to help facilitate the movement and activity of growing numbers of exchange scholars. 14 Finnish universities are now among NAFSA's 7000 members worldwide.

Tampere University also hosted the 30th Anniversary Conference of the Fulbright Program in Finland (1983) and the 35th Finnish anniversary and 40th Anniversary in Finland of the Fulbright Program worldwide (1987), the opening ceremonies of which were also held in Tampere on April 09, on Fulbright's 82nd birthday.

In 1984 Tampere created the first interdisciplinary American Studies Program in a Finnish university, providing a framework by which intercultural awareness also could be advanced on the scientific level, and enabling a higher level of international expertise and understanding consistent with Fulbright's ideals.

And Tampere has also played a key role in the ISEP (International Student Exchange Program), which began in 1979 under Fulbright authorization. ISEP expands the original Fulbright emphasis on research, teaching and graduate-level studies to also include undergraduate exchanges. Tampere was the first Nordic university to join ISEP in 1982, and became in 1986-87 the third-most-active ISEP institution with 23 students exchanged. There are now eight ISEP universities in Finland.

In 1991 Tampere began coordinating through the ISEP Board the latest Fulbright initiative, the new 1000/1000 program which expands undergraduate exchange opportunities between the U.S. and Russia and the Baltic States through the expertise and resources of ISEP in Finland.

Thus, in accepting his Doctorate on April 9, J. William Fulbright will recognize that Finland has not only benefitted from its exchange opportunities, but that Finland -- and Tampere in particular -- has also visibly and effectively contributed to the success of the programs which bear his name. As he noted in his 1987 conference letter, "I applaud the activity with which Tampere University has supported the objectives of the exchange program and the international understanding which it fosters."

The accomplishments of Finland and Tampere are among the best examples in support of Senator Fulbright's underlying philosophy, that educational exchange can promote both the expansion of knowledge between peoples and nations, and simultaneously the development of international peace and understanding.

It is perhaps symbolic that April the 9th is not only the birthday of Senator Fulbright, but also the birthday of Mikael Agricola, father of the written Finnish language. Just as Agricola, more than five hundred years ago, helped open national windows for the Finnish people, so more recently has the legislation introduced by William Fulbright helped open international windows for Finnish culture and higher education.

The Senator will appreciate this coincidence as we honor him, and he in turn honors us, at Tampere University on April the 9th.

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Original Text from April 1992