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Fulbrights, Hit By Budget Cuts, Celebrate 50th Anniversary

July 28, 1996

Juleyka Lantigua can tell you to the precise minute when she opened the letter assuring her lasting membership in one of the most exclusive clubs in the world.

``It was May 15, at 12:03 a.m. I went completely insane. I woke up everyone in my house, screaming. `Mommy! Mommy! They gave it to me! I can’t believe this!′ ″ And then I started crying.″

The 20-year-old immigrant from the Dominican Republic had returned home late from work and a night out with friends when she found the letter awaiting her on the coffee table in the living room of her Bronx home.

The news: She had been awarded a Fulbright foreign scholarship for nine months of research in Spain on how Dominican immigrants have fared in that country.

Juleyka is one of a new generation of Fulbrighters _ as their club is called _ in a milestone class that marks the 50th anniversary of the program.

More than 200,000 Fulbrighters from the United States and other countries have lived and studied overseas since President Truman signed the legislation establishing the educational exchange program on Aug. 1, 1946. More than 90,000 Americans have gone abroad.

The program is named after U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright, who sponsored the legislation two weeks after the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

``It is a modest program with an immodest aim _ the achievement in international affairs of a regime more civilized, rational and humane,″ Fulbright wrote in his book, ``The Price of Empire,″ published in 1987. ``I believed in that possibility when I began,″ he wrote. ``I still do.″

The Arkansas senator died in February 1995.

But while observances around the world commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fulbright program, they are tempered by a hard reality: Congress has cut the program’s budget by more than 20 percent, from $118 million to $92 million this year.

``I think it’s because the government applied the same levels of reduction to every operation it had rather than setting priorities,″ says Thomas Farrell, a vice president of the Institute of International Education in New York, which administers the Fulbright program for Congress.

``The students programs are always the programs in the past that have been cut,″ says Farrell.

Farrell says a generation and a half of Fulbrighters were lost between 1969 and 1981 as the result of a drastic budget cut in 1969 ordered by President Lyndon Johnson, who committed U.S. forces to the Vietnam War, was feuding with Fulbright, who opposed the war.

``We seemed to not be producing for a while the same set of leaders the Fulbright program had produced in the ’50s and ’60s,″ says Farrell.

``There wasn’t a new generation of Fulbrighters and that was because the program was cut back so drastically in 1969. It was only under President Reagan in 1981 where we started to see growth in the program again, more opportunities for U.S. students.″

One of those students is Juleyka Lantigua, who came to the United States with her family at age 10, speaking no English, and with little money.

``My neighbor’s old clothes and hand-me-downs became the latest fashions at my house,″ she wrote in her application. ``Santa Claus never brought battery-operated toys either. Thinking it would make a difference, at age 11 I started bagging groceries at the ... supermarket down the block. Funny thing is, I still think the $3.50 I earned in tips after school made a difference _ an emotional one.″

Farrell says Fulbrighters like Juleyka are one of the reasons for the program’s significance and prestige.

``It’s based on merit,″ he says. ``It’s set up to take the best and brightest. It doesn’t matter whether your family has a lot of resources or a few resources. It’s the only national scholarship program we have in the United States for any kind of international study.″

Another reason for its success, says Farrell, is that it is a joint effort between the United States and 130 other countries with which it has agreements.

But supporters of the program fear even more cuts ahead.

``Under congressional plans to balance the budget by 2002, the Fulbright program would be reduced by at least 40 percent,″ says the Fulbright Association, in a statement. ``Cuts of this magnitude would result in negative action by foreign partner governments and by the private sector, which together accounted for 31 percent of the funds received by the Fulbright program in 1994.″

The association says seven foreign countries, including Austria, Finland, Germany, Japan, Morocco, Netherlands and Norway, contributed more to the Fulbright exchanges between the United States and their country than did the U.S. government in 1994.

The Fulbrighters include members of Congress and the press and prominent figures in education, science, the arts, business and entertainment.

Among the most prominent ones are U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan; Richard L. Thomas, chief executive officer of the First National Bank of Chicago; television journalist Garrick Utley; Ronald J. Grabe, astronaut mission commander for Discovery; authors John Updike and Eudora Welty; actor Stacy Keach; musician Aaron Copland; opera singer Anna Moffo; and Rita Dove, poet laureate emeritus of the United States.

``It was, it continues to be a very big part of my professional resume,″ says Fulbrighter Meredith Parente, 45, vice president and treasurer of the Brown-Forman Corp., a Louisville, Ky.-based company that makes or sells everything from Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey to Lenox china.

Parente’s Fulbright in 1972 took her to the University of Bonn in Germany, where she studied economic and political science.

``The way I think about things was different after having lived and studied abroad,″ she says. ``It makes you aware of how different the same set of facts or situations can look, and that open-mindedness is probably the one thing that you take forward both into personal and professional life.″

``I think it’s helped me professionally a lot,″ she says. ``I didn’t enter a business career thinking that I was going to have a top flight career in international finance. But it happened.″

Barbara Burn, now 70 and associate provost for international programs at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, was among the early Fulbrighters. She was at the University of Bristol in England in 1950, doing research for her doctoral thesis in international law.

``I think it’s still tremendously exciting,″ she says. ``The Association of American Universities, when they’re measuring quality, they’re looking at the numbers of professors on the faculty that have Fulbrights.

``And it has certainly done some terribly important things in bringing collaboration, networks and joint research among scholars around the world.″

As Juleyka Lantigua embarks on her journey nearly a half century later, joining about 800 others going abroad in this golden anniversary year, she muses about the meaning of the Fulbright.

``The Fulbright for me signifies ... that I can perform. I am of equal standing ...

``I want, especially, more people of color to know about it. I want to be a resource for people who are interested. And if it means that in the 100th anniversary, I’m going to be around. I want to be able to say, `I have positively contributed to this. I’ve been able to give this more life.‴

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