How Important is Public Diplomacy? A brief look at the Fulbright Board

President Truman, with Sen Fulbright and Assistant Secretary Benton, signs the Surplus Property Act into law

This is the first of an occasional, and limited, run of posts comparing the present with the past to suggest – though perhaps reveal is a better word – how far into the margins “public diplomacy” is today. The subject of this post is the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, formerly known as the Board of Foreign Scholarships.

This post will not delve into the details of the Fulbright Act, or how, through the Fulbright-Hayes Act of 1961, Senator Fulbright created the perception that his namesake program was larger than it was and not just dwarfed by the exchanges under the Smith-Mundt Act, which the Fulbright program was a small add-on to, but that Fulbright program participants relied on Smith-Mundt Act funds, which could amount to a majority of the participant’s US government funding. Nor will this post discuss how Fulbright virtually erased the Smith-Mundt Act name from the world of exchanges and changed the name of the Board of Foreign Scholarships to the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board in 1961. For a glimpse into some of these points, see the Incompleteness of the Fulbright Paradox.

Below are two lists. The first is who was appointed to the first Board of Foreign Scholarships, the governance board overseeing the Fulbright program. This board had more responsibility, authority, and a broader mandate than the modern J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (see 22 USC 2456). Though the Fulbright Act was signed into law on August 1, 1946, the first board was not appointed until July 1947. This is that inaugural board:

  • General Omar Bradley, Administrator of Veterans Affairs [Bradly was a 5-star, General of the Army. His inclusion was, in part, because the Fulbright Act was aimed at the many GIs requesting to study overseas. At the time of the February 1946 hearing for what would become the Fulbright Act, the VA was receiving about 500 requests a week from demobilizing troops to study abroad.]
  • Sarah Gibson Blanding, president, Vassar College
  • Laurence Duggan, director, Institute of International Education
  • Charles S. Johnson, president, Fisk University [first Black president of Fisk]
  • Walter Johnson, professor of history, University of Chicago
  • Ernest O. Lawrence, professor of physics, University of California [Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1939]
  • Martin R. P. McGuire, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Catholic University
  • Francis Trow Spaulding, commissioner of education of the State of New York
  • John W. Studebaker, United States Commissioner of Education [this is the predecessor of today’s Secretary of Education]
  • Helen C. White, professor of English, University of Wisconsin

Mr. Spaulding was the chairman and Ms White was the vice chairman of the board.

Today, the members of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board are:

  • Paul Winfree, director, Heritage Foundation
  • Margaret Chai Maloney, executive director, Palo Alto Education Group
  • John DeStefano, advisor, Juul [title listed for the board: Former Assistant to the President and Counselor to President Trump]
  • Hope Hicks [no current position listed, title listed for the board: Former Assistant to the President and Counselor to President Trump]
  • Alphonso Jackson, vice-chairman, JPMorgan Chase [title listed for the board: former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2004-2008]
  • Derek Lyons, general counsel, AppHarvest [former White House Staff Secretary and Counselor to President Trump]
  • Heather Nauert, senior fellow, Hudson Institute [title listed for the board: Former Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and Spokesperson for the Department of State]
  • Andrew Olmem, partner, Mayer Brown LLP [former Deputy Assistant to President Trump]
  • William Ruger, vice president, Charles Koch Institute
  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders [no current position listed, title listed for the board: Former White House Press Secretary]
  • Amy Swonger, principal, Invariant [title listed for the board: Former Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs]
  • John M. Viola, president, Florida Panthers Foundation

Mr. Winfree serves as the chairman and there does not appear to be a vice chairman.

Any comparison between the appointments by former President Trump and that of any other President, let alone Truman in the early years of rebuilding relationships, capacity, and countering Russian political warfare, is like comparing turnips to apples. Any such comparison is also challenged by how the responsibilities of board members have changed even as the prestige remains.

Image: Senator J. William Fulbright (left) and Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs William Benton (right) watch as President Harry S. Truman sign the Fulbright Act into law, August 1, 1946.

4 thoughts on “How Important is Public Diplomacy? A brief look at the Fulbright Board

  1. These are some of my thoughts related to Matt’s two most recent posts.

    For anybody interested in the history of the Fulbright Program, Walter Johnson and Francis Colligan’s The Fulbright Program: A History (Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1965) is well worth reading. U of Chicago graduate and historian Walter Johnson was one of the founding members of the Board of Foreign Scholarships (BFS), which was instrumental in putting the architecture of the program together – along with a handful of exchange experts from the State Department. He served on the BFS from 1947-1954; chaired it 1950-53; and played an influential leadership role. Colligan was chief of the Division of Exchange of Persons, 1947 to 1952, deputy director of the International Educational Exchange Service, 1952 to 1958, and also served as the executive secretary of the Board of Foreign Scholarships from 1948 to 1957. Johnson and Colligan were real insiders, and wrote history as advocacy. It is an interesting read because Johnson and Colligan, who were major actors in putting the Fulbright Program together, as co-authors tended to conceal their personal agency.

    I would like to make a few observations on the Fulbright Act based on my ongoing research on the history of the program:

    (1) The Fulbright Act provided secured funding for exchanges in a variety of foreign currencies, but it was otherwise sparse on information about the organizational details of the program. The preamble and the first section of the act – about 40 percent of the text – address the technicalities of the amendment of the Surplus Property Act of 1944 necessary to secure the rights for the State Department to act as the sole disposal agency for surplus properties overseas. The second section based on Fulbright’s original bill mapped out the two defining features of the program’s architecture in a run-on technical formulation that is barely intelligible. It authorized the Secretary of State to “enter into an executive agreement or agreements with any foreign government for the use of currencies, or credits for currencies, of such government acquired as a result of such surplus property disposals, for the purpose of providing, by the formations of foundations or otherwise, for (A) financing studies, research, instruction, and other educational activities of or for American citizens in institutions of higher learning located in such foreign countries . . . . including payment for transportation, tuition, maintenance, and other expenses incident to scholastic activities; or (B) furnishing transportation for citizens of such foreign country who desire to attend American schools or institutions of higher learning, . .” In other words:
    (2) The exchange program initially would be limited to countries where “war junk” – Sam Lebovic’s brilliant metaphor for surplus property for sale overseas – was available and whose governments concluded agreements with the U.S. to purchase it, thus producing the revenue necessary to fund the program, and these conditions correspondingly limited the initial geographical scope of the program to countries in former theaters of war in Europe and the Mediterranean, Asia, and the Pacific were there were surpluses to be liquidated.
    (3) The Secretary of State was authorized to conclude executive agreements with these countries to establish “foundations or otherwise,” which were to be entrusted with managing the funds for the program on the ground. The binational commissions established by the executive agreements originally were an innovative response to the “the need for establishing a new type of agency to handle programme funds in each country”: executive agreements that had the status of treaties in terms of international law authorized the establishment of binational commissions that were made responsible for accepting and disbursing funds for educational exchanges and handling all of the related accounting and reporting issues. In each country, these commissions assumed wide-ranging responsibilities for planning and executing the program on the ground.
    (4) It ultimately was up to the State Department to come up with a model executive agreement and then to negotiate individual bilateral agreements on a country-by-country basis. Between 1947 and 1952, the United States concluded twenty-eight executive agreements establishing “U.S. educational foundations” or “U.S. educational commissions” abroad, which frequently were called by a generic name associated with the senator and the program. Forty-one commissions with 50,000 Fulbright alumni were operative by the time the Fulbright-Hays Act was passed in 1961. Fulbright-Hays made funding for Fulbright a line item in the federal budget in the future. It also broadened the program with federal funding for Fulbright grants to countries without the signature binational Fulbright commissions, which were given the opportunity to co-fund the program and have done so vigorously to date. At the end of the day countries with Fulbright commissions built and build the core of the Fulbright program and account for almost 80% of its 400,000 plus alumni.
    (5) The original structure of Fulbright grants was asymmetrical because the funds available for bilateral exchanges were exclusively in non-convertible foreign currencies. They could be used to cover the costs of comprehensive grants “for transportation, tuition, maintenance, and other expenses” for Americans overseas but only covered “transportation” of foreign grantees to their ports of entry in the U.S. Therefore, the greatest structural deficiency of the Fulbright Act was that it did not provide for an appropriation of U.S. dollars necessary to cover the educational costs incurred in the U.S. by grantees from abroad or for promoting and administering the program in the U.S.. These funds urgently had to be found elsewhere.
    (6) The penultimate section of the Fulbright Act, which was based on an amendment introduced by Fulbright and the final touch on the legislation, authorized the president “to appoint a Board of Foreign Scholarships (BFS), consisting of ten members, who shall serve without compensation, composed of representatives of cultural, educational, student and war veterans groups, and including representatives of the United States Office of Education, the United States Veterans’ Administration, State educational institutions, and privately endowed educational institutions.” The BFS was entrusted with the “selecting students and educational institutions qualified to participate in this program” and given broad supervisory powers as an autonomous governing body. It is especially noteworthy that the BFS consisted of private citizens and experts appointed by the U.S. president — “civilians” so to speak — who were entrusted with the governance of a government sponsored educational exchange program to insulate it from the day-to-day pressures of partisan politics and propaganda. In 1946, the culture of political appointees that exists today did not exist. Right into the 1970s, presidents of the United States tended to observe the spirit of the legislation by appointing the “representatives of cultural, educational, student and war veterans groups, and including representatives of the United States Office of Education, the United States Veterans’ Administration, state educational institutions, and privately endowed educational institutions” prescribed by the legislation. However, thereafter appointments became much more “political”. The BFS was rechristened the FFSB (Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board) in 1990. The Clinton FFSB appointees were the last with a genuine understanding of the Fulbright Program. Since the first GW Bush administration, the FFSB has been characterized by “political appointees” in the current sense of the term. The kinds of leading academics and university executives, who populated the BFS in the olden days, have been rare among the presidential appointments in the 21st century. The connection to “representatives of cultural, educational, student and war veterans groups, . . . . state educational institutions, and privately endowed educational institutions” prescribed by the legislation has been lost. The FFSB does not represent the interests of the Fulbright Program as much as it reflects the partisanship of the presidents appointing its members.
    (7) In conclusion, the Fulbright Act noted that preference was to be given to veterans in the selection of participants along with an equitable distribution of applicants from “all geographical areas of the United States; and that the Secretary of State report annually to Congress on its operations. The GI Bill, which opened the door to higher education for many Americans for the first time, dovetailed with the Fulbright Act, which presented opportunities to travel, live, and study or teach abroad for many Americans for the first time, too, and the intention of the geographical distribution requirement was to extend these opportunities from traditional centers of privilege on the East Coast to the American hinterland as well.
    (8) The passage of a second piece of landmark legislation was necessary to bring the Fulbright Act to fruition: The U.S Information and Educational Exchange Act — usually referenced by the names of its cosponsors Senator H. Alexander Smith (R-New Jersey) and Representative Karl Mundt (R-Iowa) – was drafted by the State Department in the course of 1947 and signed into law in January 1948: 17 months after the Fulbright Act. The purpose of the Smith-Mundt Act was to provide a general authorization and funding for all of the disparate information and exchange activities housed in the Office for International Information and Cultural Affairs (OIIC): “to promote a better understanding of the United States in other countries, and to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” However, unlike the Fulbright Act, which antedated the cold war in many respects, the Smith-Mundt Act quintessentially was a product of the emerging cold war. Most importantly, it compensated for some of the crucial deficiencies of the original Fulbright legislation, which did not provide for the appropriations in U.S. dollars that were necessary to cover program costs inside of the United States.
    (9) Furthermore, the vigorous support provided by American civil society was absolutely essential in getting the program off the ground. The Fulbright Act provided support for the travel of foreign participants, but not for their on-site costs after arrival. U.S. institutions elected to waive tuition and fees for incoming student grantees and provided additional support for students and scholars in the form of scholarships, grants, stipends, or salaries. Other organizations, such as fraternities, sororities, associations, and clubs, were instrumental in providing hospitality and helping cover on-site living costs. Reliance on cooperation with and the support of private institutions, agencies, foundations, universities, colleges, and individuals became one of the basic organizational principles, as well as a sign of public generosity and the impressive civic spirit of the Fulbright Program in its inaugural decades. The success of the Fulbright Program was based on identifying non-governmental sources of funding under the auspices of what is called private-public partnerships today.
    (10) The Smith-Mundt Act put the Fulbright Program on a sounder basis of mixed financing: revenues in foreign currencies from the sale of surpluses from the original Fulbright Act —where they existed—for expenses incurred outside of the U.S. and funding in U.S. dollars from Smith-Mundt for costs incurred inside the U.S. or elsewhere, if revenues from the sale of surpluses were not available. Smith-Mundt also made it possible to fund individual exchanges to and from countries without foreign currency revenues, most notably the “Leadership Programs” that morphed into the International Visitors Leadership Program (and is not an exchange program at all but a unilateral visitation program). In other words, the Smith-Mundt Act completed a mixed funding formula for the Fulbright Program: foreign currencies from the sale of surpluses overseas, where available; substantial private sector support in the United States, which was forthcoming; and U.S. dollars from the federal budget for expenditures inside and outside of the United States, if available and when necessary.

    1. Lonnie,

      Thank you for your detailed reply. However, a clarification, if not correction, is necessary. In your paragraph 8 you wrote,

      The passage of a second piece of landmark legislation was necessary to bring the Fulbright Act to fruition: The U.S Information and Educational Exchange Act — usually referenced by the names of its cosponsors Senator H. Alexander Smith (R-New Jersey) and Representative Karl Mundt (R-Iowa) – was drafted by the State Department in the course of 1947 and signed into law in January 1948: 17 months after the Fulbright Act.

      This is inaccurate. The US Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, aka the Smith-Mundt Act, was first introduced in January 1945, months before the introduction of Fulbright’s amendment. In other words, the Mundt bill antedated the Fulbright bill. The State Department did ask Mundt to resubmit a bill to authorize exchange and information programs but this was not, as some authors have suggested (including apparently the ones you cite). This bill was a slightly modified form of the Bloom bill that died at the end of the 79th Congress. (Also, Mundt was from South Dakota.)

      In July 1946, Mundt’s bill, known since July 1945 as the Bloom Bill after the Democrat chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who took over Mundt’s bill, had already passed the House by a two-thirds vote. The management of the bill was not extensive however on July 17, 1946, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations reported out the bill on the “Interchange of Persons, Knowledge, and Skills Between the People of the United States and the Peoples of Other Countries” with a “do pass.” However, the Republican leadership in the Senate blocked the bill from a vote on purely partisan grounds. In the next Congress, when the bill was reintroduced at the State Department’s request, it was now a Republican bill (Bloom was a Democrat) under Mundt in a Republican controlled Congress (which Truman called the “Do Nothing Congress”). Senator H. Alexander Smith (R-N.J.) was brought in to manage the bill in the Senate to prevent the problems in the 79th Congress. In the 80th Congress, the same Republicans in the top leadership positions now supported the bill. (Senator Taft took the lead in actually blocking the Bloom bill, though all the top Republicans in leadership voiced opposition in strictly partisan terms. In a speech railing against the Bloom bill, Taft was either unaware of the real contents and purposes of the bill or just intentional inflammatory. In 1947, Taft reversed himself and supported the bill, which Alexander surely helped with.)

      In 1945 and 1946, Fulbright’s amendment was an extension of Mundt’s exchanges and, as you and I noted, aimed first at GIs and second as a means of accessing additional funds without increasing the Congressional appropriation for exchanges. You note that you read this prior post, The Incompleteness of the Fulbright Paradox, which has more information on this. To put it more bluntly, as I did in that post, the Fulbright Act was subordinate to and dependent on the Smith-Mundt Act, which preceded it.

      Your implication that the Smith-Mundt Act was just for the OIIC’s exchanges is also inaccurate. This is briefly discussed in The Incompleteness of the Fulbright Paradox and more so in other posts, which I can point you to if desired. The Smith-Mundt Act provided necessary authorities for a range of activities beyond those of OIIC, one of which (the aviation beacon) was noted in that post.

      To your point that the Smith-Mundt Act “quintessentially was a product of the emerging cold war”, your partially correct in that the supporting rhetoric around the bill changed in tone and tenor. The field research by Congress (see Recalling history: the 1947 Smith-Mundt CODEL to Europe) naturally reacted to directly and indirectly observed Russian activities. However, the bill itself was not “quintessentially” a product as it began life in January 1945. (Technically, the start is sooner as Mundt’s January 1945 bill was an update to his March 1943 bill, which was similar to other bills by Rep. Voorhis introduced in March 1942 and June 1941. However, it is Mundt’s January 1945 bill that has the direct lineage to the final Smith-Mundt Act signed into law 3 years and 3 days after it was first introduced.)

      On the point of private-public partnerships, these were also part and parcel of the exchanges Mundt/Bloom/Smith-Mundt bills and final Smith-Mundt Act but on a far larger scale and going beyond the educational arena. (It’s worth noting that a major amendment to the Act was through the European Recovery Plan legislation, which added the Informational Media Guarantee, another private-public partnership.)

      It should be clear that the small and narrowly defined Fulbright exchanges relied upon the funding of the Smith-Mundt Act. The latter did not merely put the former on sounder financial footing, it enabled it in most cases. Further, the Smith-Mundt Act’s exchanges were larger, more inclusive and more expansive.

  2. Matt,

    The 75th anniversary of the signature of the Fulbright Act was on August 1. I have done a short (13 minute) PowerPoint/video presentation that the Fulbright Association was kind enough to post on its YouTube channel at It was a contribution to a panel the Fulbright Association hosted with the University of Arkansas Library’s Special Collections on August 3, 2021: “Celebrating 75 years: History and Impact of the Fulbright Program” See The U of Arkansas Library is in the process of putting 10,000 pages of material on-line related to the history of the program, and Carol Li reports on her recently completed dissertation on the Republic of China-Taiwan-U.S. Fulbright Program.

    Smith-Mundt funding was essential to get the Fulbright exchanges of the ground, but, in my opinion, I think that it would be difficult to argue that Fulbright awards were “small and narrowly defined”. “A special study on the effectiveness of the past educational and cultural exchange programs of the U.S. Department of State: A report to Congress from the U.S. Advisory Commission on International Educational and Cultural Affairs pursuant to Public Law 87-256 also constituting the first annual report of the U.S. Advisor Commission on International Educational and Cultural Affairs” (1963) is an interesting document with an statistical appendix (p. 45) showing that the majority of exchange grantees (students, lecturers, scholars, teachers) between 1949 and 1962 were Fulbrighters in comparison with the of “leaders” (IVLP) and “specialists” funded under Smith-Mundt. After 1961, Fulbright always was the largest single line item in the exchanges budget and still is today.

    Walter Johsnon, who chaired the Fulbright Program’s Board of Foreign Scholarships, subsequently served on the U.S. Advisory Commission on International Educational and Cultural Affairs, and then authored the Fulbright history. He was a prolific and influential guy…..

    Best regards,


  3. Lonnie,

    Thank you for the comment and for the information. The report by the US Advisory Commission on International Educational and Cultural Affairs, a body that was originally established by the Smith-Mundt Act as the US Advisory Commission on Educational Exchange but renamed, expanded, and the bipartisan requirement removed by the Fulbright-Hays Act, is a good read. This was the first report of the commission under the Fulbright-Hays Act.

    To start, let me expand on my “small and narrowly defined” comment. By “small,” I mean the Fulbright program limited in which countries participated and the number of participants who could participate.

    It is worth noting that the appendix on p45 of the report (the report is available here: shows 18% of the Americans who participated in the program did so in the programs years of 1960-1962. During the prior 11 years, there would have been an average of 1,578 Americans each year going abroad, although that is misleading considering the pace was not consistent year over year. Looking at the non-Americans coming to the US, 19.5% were in the program years of 1960-1962, and over 3800 came to US “on average” (see the above caveat) each of the previous 11 years. However, this chart does not differentiate between Fulbright, Smith-Mundt, and may also including participants in other government exchange programs. See p7 for the discussion that follows “Since 1949, nearly 53,000 foreign visitors have come to the United States and over 21,000 Americans have gone abroad under the exchange program of the Department of State.” Recall the Fulbright Act is explicitly outside of the State Department even if the Chief of Mission or PAO may be on the local Fulbright Board. The commission, and its report, is looking at all exchanges, not just Fulbright Exchanges.

    By “narrowly defined,” I mean that only people that were directly engaged in education or research were covered by this program. There were plenty of areas of exchanges / interchanges that were not covered by Fulbright but were covered by the Smith-Mundt Act.

    Back to the funding. The issue of relying on foreign currency was a severe drag on the program and the Smith-Mundt monies were limited. The foreign currency issue was “extremely complex.” “Fiscal starvation” is cited in the report as a major weakness in the Fulbright program. The foreign currency was not enough (remember from the post what Fulbright monies did *not* cover) and there was “tremendous competition” for Smith-Mundt (and other) funds. The report also notes “accepting a grant means a personal outlay of $2,500 to $3,000 a year beyond the grant funds.” The report then cites a Fulbright professor in France: “It’s gotten to the point where good people no longer apply for a Fulbright unless they have a sabbatical to go with it.” It is important to remember that non-Americans were not using Fulbright monies once they hit our shores. They relied on Smith-Mundt monies in addition to local funds (the colleges they attended, non-profit groups, etc). And, Americans going abroad relied on Smith-Mundt or other monies to get to the foreign shore.

    The purpose of the Fulbright-Hays Act was to remove the fiscal restrictions of the Fulbright Act, which it successfully did. It also erased the history of dependence (not co-dependence) on the Smith-Mundt Act and problems with its first decade.


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