The statue of J. William Fulbright at the University of Arkansas campus on a sunny autumn day
Fulbright Finland News Magazine

At the Home of Fulbright

13 December 2019 • Text: Terhi Mölsä, Photos: Terhi Mölsä
The University of Arkansas and the Fulbright Finland Foundation have a special relationship. But what connects the two?

Fayetteville, the hometown of Senator J. William Fulbright and the flagship campus of the University of Arkansas, hosted an unforgettable visit for me to reexamine and celebrate the special ties.

Born in 1905, Fulbright grew up in Fayetteville, in the hill country of the Ozarks in northwestern Arkansas. He attended the University of Arkansas and was a star player on its football team, the Razorbacks. After graduating, he received a Rhodes scholarship, which brought him from the provincial town to Pembroke College in Oxford, England, from 1925-28. Oxford was a transformational experience. It changed his worldview and laid part of the foundations for the legislation he authored as a junior Arkansas Senator in 1946 to establish the educational exchange program that bears his name.

Finland is among the handful of countries that has been associated with the Fulbright Program since the very start.

Finland is among the handful of countries that has been associated with the Fulbright Program since the very start, and is celebrating the 70th anniversary of Finnish-American exchanges this year. Over 3,800 Finns and 1,900 U.S. citizens have participated in the programs of the Fulbright Finland Foundation to date.

I met senator Fulbright on his last trip abroad in 1992, three years before his death, when he visited Helsinki and Tampere and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Tampere, my alma mater. We had a memorable conversation. He was well aware of Finland’s – and Fulbright Finland’s – exceptional history and was a great friend of Finland and “the courageous Finns”, as he put it.

Little did I know that 27 years later I would visit his home town in Arkansas as the CEO of the Fulbright Finland Foundation. But there I was late Friday afternoon on a flight from Washington D.C. to northwestern Arkansas along with Arkansas Senator John Boozman, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. We talked about Fulbright and the impact and importance of exchanges. The global Fulbright Program is fortunate to have him in Washington, D.C. as an advocate and supporter.

To celebrate the special relationship between the Fulbright Finland Foundation and the University of Arkansas, I presented to the university a glass kuksa. It is our 70th anniversary art piece, modeled after a traditional Finnish, and originally Sámi, cup and created and hand-crafted in a limited edition by the American glass artist and Fulbright Finland alum, Jonathan Capps.

The memorable recognition ceremony took place at a venue laden with symbolic importance: in front of the Fulbright Peace Fountain and across from the bronze statue of J. William Fulbright, set between Old Main, the historical campus center which now houses the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, and Vol Walker Hall, which formerly housed the university president’s office and now is the home of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design. The Dean, Peter MacKeith, is a distinguished alum and supporter of the Fulbright Finland Foundation, and the kuksa will be permanently displayed in his office. This is a fully appropriate coincidence because it is the very same office J. William Fulbright had during his tenure as president of the University of Arkansas from 1939 to 1941.

Fulbright Finland Foundation 70th anniversary art piece, glass kuksa on a cherry wood stand
The Fulbright Finland 70th Anniversary kuksa on its stand, made from local cherry wood in Fayetteville by Justin M. Tucker from the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design.

I got to spend time at the Special Collections at the University of Arkansas Libraries, which houses the J. William Fulbright Papers as well as the historical files of the Bureau for Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State, and the Council for International Exchange of Scholars Records. The Fulbright Finland Foundation is privileged to have its own archive housed in the National Archives of Finland. However, the papers in the Special Collections in Fayetteville on Finnish-American exchanges since the late 1940s illuminate the American side of the story and are crucial for understanding the complete picture. 

“As the scholarly hub in the United States for Senator Fulbright’s legacy and that of the Fulbright Program, it is our honor and privilege to support emerging modes of scholarship drawing on these rich collections that document the history of international education and exchange,” says Lori Birrell, Associate Dean for Special Collections.

It was inspiring to see how the University of Arkansas and the broader Arkansas community are working together to promote the Senator’s legacy. After a long career in the nation’s capital, including serving as the chief of staff in the Presidential Personnel Office during the Clinton Presidency, Marsha Scott recently returned to her home state, Arkansas, to serve as the Director of the new Fulbright Legacy Project that she established together with Todd Shields, Dean of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.

“The Fulbright Legacy Project is dedicated to promoting Arkansas higher education, business and government to the worldwide Fulbright community through the lens of Senator Fulbright’s signature program; and conversely having the international Fulbright communities share with us their countries benefits and experience,” she says, extending an invitation for collaboration to the Fulbright Finland Foundation and to the global Fulbright community.

Kim Needy, Dean of the Graduate School and International Education, Dennis Clark, Dean of Libraries, Fulbright Finland Foundation CEO Terhi Mölsä, Peter MacKeith, Dean and Professor of Architecture at the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, and DeDe Long, Director Emeritus of the Office of Study Abroad and International Exchange, and Vice-Chair of the Fulbright Association.
At the recognition event (l-r) Kim Needy, Dean of the Graduate School and International Education, Dennis Clark, Dean of Libraries, Fulbright Finland Foundation CEO Terhi Mölsä, Peter MacKeith, Dean and Professor of Architecture at the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, and DeDe Long, Director Emeritus of the Office of Study Abroad and International Exchange, and Vice-Chair of the Fulbright Association.

My exceptional hostess and guide during my stay in Fayetteville was DeDe Long, Director Emeritus of the Office of Study Abroad and International Exchange of the University of Arkansas. Adding yet another special connection to our list, DeDe Long is the current Vice-Chair and the designated incoming Chair of the Board of Directors of the Fulbright Association, a Washington D.C. based membership association for American alumni of the global Fulbright program, which the Fulbright Finland Foundation has a continuing collaboration with.

I was genuinely touched by the heart-felt hospitality of everyone that I met in Fayetteville, starting with the President of the University of Arkansas system, Don Bobbit, and the university chancellor, Joseph Steinmetz; the deans of the Fulbright College, the Graduate School and International Education, and University Libraries; and all of the staff, faculty, and students I was fortunate to meet. We look forward to returning their Arkansan hospitality, and invite our Fayetteville friends to another special place in the Senator’s heart — Finland!

Read the whole Fulbright Finland News magazine 2/2019!