The Fund for American Studies: Celebrating 50 Years of Educating Leaders Throughout the World
In an interview a few years after he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, F.A. Hayek expressed his strong belief that the climate of opinion mattered much more than current politics. Having engaged for more than half a century in the intellectual debate between socialism and freedom, he came to the following conclusion from his experience:
So far as the movement of intellectual opinion is concerned, it is now for the first time in my life moving in the right direction….When I was a young man, only the really old men believed in a free market system. When I was in my middle age, almost I myself and no one else believed in it. Now I have the pleasure of having lived long enough to see the young people believe again in it. That is a very important change. Whether this comes in time to save the world, I don’t know.
The Fund for American Studies (TFAS) was founded in 1967 with a mission focused on influencing the intellectual climate in the world by giving young people entering leadership positions a balanced perspective on political and economic systems. It was founded in the heat of the Cold War and during a period of growing unrest and even violent upheaval on college campuses. Many of the founders of the organization were actively engaged in international programs, including former Congressman Walter Judd and political organizer David R. Jones.
While TFAS cannot lay claim to the title of ending the Cold War or calming the campuses, TFAS alumni have gone on to play key roles in world and national events. Several have served in Congress, including two serving today, Sen. Claire McCaskill (MO) and Rep. David Rouzer (NC).
When TFAS was incorporated in February 1967, the founding articles stressed several priorities, including granting scholarships for preparatory studies for careers in public service and journalism and for summer programs stressing leadership development and internship experience. A distinct objective was to encourage foreign travel and study to encourage youth “to compare the American way of life with that of peoples of other lands and to better understand the problems confronting our Government in the conduct of foreign affairs.”
This last objective wasn’t realized until 1993, when TFAS developed overseas institutes where college students from the United States could study with young people from other regions in the world. TFAS now organizes summer programs in Prague, Czech Republic, Hong Kong and Santiago, Chile. Many of the graduates of these overseas programs are now in leadership positions in their countries, including the president of the Central Bank of Latvia, a deputy minister in Georgia, and numerous serving in diplomatic positions or elsewhere in government or international business. TFAS alumni are contributing articles to foreign policy journals, covering breaking news throughout the world, and participating in democracy-building initiatives and conflict resolution programs.
A new initiative that dovetails with this international focus is the summer Institute on Economics and International Affairs (IEIA), started in 2013 for American students interested in pursuing careers in diplomacy and international relations. The program combines a course on American foreign policy and an international economics course with internships in the international field. Seventy-five students are selected to attend this eight-week-long summer program. A guest lecture series brings in leaders working in a range of international fields to speak to students on today’s most pressing foreign policy issues, from assaults on liberty and national sovereignty by revanchist powers to the stifling of economic freedom and prosperity by statist regimes. The international economic policy course helps our students better understand how economic institutions, property rights and the operation of markets differ across countries and why these differences emerge. In the foreign policy course, students explore America’s rich diplomatic history, debate the two most enduring views of America’s role in the world (the Realist and the Wilsonian) and examine major episodes in American foreign policy that highlight American leadership in world politics.
TFAS also fulfills its international objectives through partnerships with many organizations that share an interest in international exchange and a sound foreign policy, including the Council of American Ambassadors. Working with the Council, we enroll in TFAS programs students who have been accepted for internships at the U.S. State Department. These students are selected on a competitive basis. They not only enroll in two courses accredited through George Mason University, in international economics and American foreign policy, but they also are assigned former ambassadors who serve as their mentors throughout the summer. It is a unique opportunity that gives these students a remarkable chance to gain focus in terms of their career trajectory and learn about the workings of the State Department.
Other partnerships include the Friends of Slovakia, the Netherland-America Foundation, the Rowny Paderewski Scholarship for Poland, the Hungary Initiatives Foundation and miscellaneous other programs for students from Estonia, Latvia, Nepal and Norway.
On September 28, 2017, TFAS will celebrate its 50th anniversary. As we look to the future, we see obvious challenges both in the United States and internationally. The attempts to stifle dissent and discussion on U.S. college campuses present certain difficulties for organizations trying to offer forums for left, right and center to come together to discuss important issues and ideas. And internationally, the need for programs of public diplomacy has never been greater.
TFAS has established three priorities for its 50th anniversary. The first involves engaging and mobilizing its 16,000-strong alumni network. By organizing an annual TFAS Alumni Leadership Academy, staging a three-day TFAS Alumni Summit and establishing a National Public Policy Fellowship Program, TFAS will offer alumni opportunities for continuing education and faster career advancement. TFAS has plans for an online resource, TFAS Connect, to foster alumni communications, networking, mentoring, career counseling and job placement for alumni working both in the United States and abroad. TFAS alumni are working in leadership positions throughout the world. TFAS Connect will help strengthen this network for the benefit of alumni and the values of democracy, economic opportunity and the rule of law.
Students are at the heart of the TFAS mission, yet the costs of higher education continue to outpace the rate of inflation. TFAS will work to increase its scholarship opportunities to ensure that we are able to recruit the best and brightest to our leadership development programs. This is priority two for our next 50 years. This includes an initiative to provide full scholarships to bring the top students in our international programs in Europe, Asia and South America to the United States each year. Through being immersed in American culture, taking courses on American political ideas and economics, conversing with peers from American universities and experiencing a Washington, D.C., internship, these future leaders will become even more effective advocates for freedom and democratic values in their home countries.
TFAS’s third priority for the next 50 years is to start a conversation in the United States about the meaning of and importance of freedom. The American system of government is unique because it was created to protect and enhance the freedom of the American people. As President Barack Obama said in 2012 in his debate with Governor Mitt Romney, “The genius of America is the free enterprise system and freedom.” Our goal is to bring Americans together through a campaign we are calling the “Voices of Freedom” campaign. We will try to bring together people from the right, left and center to talk about how freedom can unite Americans and reduce discord in the public square.
As we look towards the next 50 years, we remain committed to education, the development of leaders and international exchange. We remain committed to bringing young people together from across the spectrum to engage in vigorous civil debate and the search for common understanding, if not always common ground.
President, The Fund for American Studies