Below is the text of a letter regarding the Department of State's decision to eliminate all funding for the Mitchell Scholarship program. If you'd like to weigh in in support of this letter, please sign our petition in support of funding the program.
June 19, 2012
The Honorable Patrick Leahy, Chair
The Honorable Lindsey Graham, Ranking Member
The Honorable Kay Granger, Chair
The Honorable Nita Lowey, Ranking Member
Senate & House Appropriations Committees
Dear Chairs & Ranking Members:
We are writing to ask you to quickly contact Secretary Clinton to urge her not to end the US Government’s longstanding commitment to the George J. Mitchell Scholarship program. This program connects future American leaders to Ireland and Northern Ireland with a year of post-graduate study there.
The Department of State intends to provide no further funds for what is one of the most prestigious scholarship programs in the country. If that occurs, we will cancel the fall 2012 competition to select a class of Mitchell Scholars for the 2013-2014 academic year. (The application deadline is early October 2012, so prior to that date we would have to tell hundreds of universities and thousands of students across the country that the program has been temporarily suspended.)
We hope that you will ensure that this does not occur by impressing the following upon the Secretary:
1. The Mitchell Scholarship program is about much more than the island of Ireland – it prepares America’s future leaders in areas that are State Department priorities while at the same time creating for those leaders a tie to the island of Ireland.
2. The less than $500,000 a year the Department provides to the Mitchell Scholarship is a relatively small amount (.0008 percent of the Educational and Cultural Affairs budget), yet necessary for the uninterrupted functioning of the program. (The Department has provided roughly the same amount, with no increases in ten years.)
3. Europe matters.
For the last few years, our staff has been told by Department of State officials that it has other priorities and that Europe is not a priority. We completely understand and agree that the USG has myriad pressing crises around the world, including Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, “Arab Spring” countries, and China. However, Europe is facing economic instability that threatens the future of the euro and the prospects for the global economy, so it hardly qualifies as a place the US can ignore. Just recently, President Obama noted that Europe’s economy is “starting to cast a shadow on our own as well.” And European countries are crucial partners in confronting the very real and urgent crises the US faces around the world.
State Department Priorities
The Mitchell Scholarship program is much more than “just” a scholarship to study in Ireland and Northern Ireland, as the Department seems to view it. This program is equipping a future generation of leaders in ways that are important for the US at home and abroad. Attached to this letter is a short list of what some Mitchell Scholars are doing now that relate to the Department’s own priorities -- for example, three Mitchell Scholars with Arabic skills are currently working for the Department of State.
Cost and Value
Within just three years of the establishment of the George J. Mitchell Scholarship program, the New York Times profiled it as one of the most prestigious scholarships a young American could receive, and several applicants have opted to pursue a Mitchell instead of a Rhodes. This is an astounding achievement given the much longer histories, higher profiles, and bigger budgets of programs like the Rhodes and the Marshall – and all of this has been achieved with a staff of only two people.
From an Irish and Northern Ireland perspective, the program is incredibly valuable as it has greatly elevated the profile of the island’s universities in the US. Shortly after the Mitchell was established, representatives of Trinity College Dublin told us that their number of American graduate students had increased substantially, and they attributed that in large part to the attention brought about by the Mitchell and its prestige. Americans who have not won a Mitchell, but learned about study opportunities on the island through the Mitchell, have ended up studying in Ireland and Northern Ireland as paying students. This is important for Ireland and Northern Ireland economically, and it is important in terms of creating future ties between our historically connected nations. It is worth noting that Irish immigration to the US has declined dramatically, and we cannot rely on immigration alone for the maintenance of the relationship. The Celtic Tiger years, when Ireland’s economy was booming, meant that not only fewer Irish were moving to the US but many in the US returned to Ireland. Currently, employment prospects in the US are sufficiently unappealing that the Irish who are emigrating are more often opting for places like Australia and Canada.
State Department officials praise the Mitchell Scholarship program and assure us that their reason for planning to end funding is related to their own, other priorities, and has nothing to do with any negative assessment of the program. However, we feel State wrongly sees itself as the sole funder for the program by failing to adequately appreciate the significant contributions of our partners. The USG regularly speaks about burden sharing, and here is a place where that is occurring. While the State Department funding represents the largest financial contribution to the program on an annual basis, and is therefore critically important in the near term, the Northern Ireland government also provides an annual contribution, and the institutions of higher education in Ireland and Northern Ireland are contributing greatly in terms of tuition and housing. While the Irish Government is not making any cash contributions to the program’s annual administration, the Government did make clear its strong support of the program’s endowment. In 2010 legislation, the Irish Government committed to match donations that we raise, up to 20 million euros, for a permanent endowment for the program. This is vitally important because it has always been our objective that the Mitchell Scholarship program should continue in perpetuity.
At the present time, we are working diligently to raise the endowment. While we did make some progress prior to the economic downturn in 2008, the current financial climate has delayed our progress. Senator Mitchell is involved in helping us fundraise (something he was prohibited from doing while he worked as the President’s Special Envoy for Middle East peace). We greatly hope that philanthropists who care about the US-Ireland relationship and/or the international education of America’s future leaders will fund this program so that we will no longer have to rely on USG assistance. The USG money is, however, a critical bridge while the endowment is being raised.
Finally, it has come to our attention that State considers that it has Ireland “covered” with the Fulbright Scholarship. We admire other international scholarships and we do not wish to get into a Mitchell vs. Fulbright debate. Suffice it to say they are very different scholarship programs that honor two great men. The Mitchell, however, is unique to Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is an enduring symbol of the relationship between the United States and the island of Ireland following the historic 1998 peace agreement that Senator Mitchell was instrumental in achieving, and he deserves the honor of this scholarship.
The Secretary of State often talks about the importance of increasing the number of Americans studying abroad. We wholeheartedly agree with her. As she and her staff have noted, the US cannot be economically competitive or able to address the world’s problems if its future leaders are not equipped for the task. The State Department has noted that only one percent of American students enrolled in higher education are choosing to study abroad. That is simply not enough and cutting existing, successful programs is plainly detrimental to US interests.
Valuable programs like the Mitchell Scholarship rely on sage leaders who take the long view and are able to see beyond short-term economic difficulties. We hope you agree and will express this perspective to Secretary Clinton.
Trina Vargo, president & founder, US-Ireland Alliance, Arlington, VA
Jim Fitzpatrick, partner, Arnold & Porter, Washington D.C.
Mark Nagel, principal, Epiphany Advisors, San Francisco, CA
John O’Farrell, general partner, Andreessen Horowitz, Palo Alto, CA
Brian Barrington, barrister, Dublin, Ireland
Gerry McCrory, founder, Scoir, Radnor, PA
Hylda Queally, agent, Creative Artists Agency, Los Angeles, CA
Jim Sheridan, film director, Dublin, Ireland
John Gardiner, partner, Skadden Arps, New York City
Joe O’Malley, partner, Hayes Solicitors, Dublin, Ireland
Ruth Shipsey, solicitor, Dublin, Ireland
Anthony McCusker – partner, Goodwin Proctor, San Francisco, CA
*Those listed above belong to the fiduciary and advisory boards of the US-Ireland Alliance. The titles and companies of these individuals are provided solely for identification purposes, and this information does not indicate the endorsement of his letter by their employers. Board members who have not signed are prohibited from doing so by the rules of their employers.
SHORT LIST: MITCHELL SCHOLARS INVOLVED IN STATE DEPARTMENT PRIORITIES
Arsalan Suleman – counselor for multilateral affairs, Bureau of Department of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Department of State
Mariyam Cementwala – political officer, US Embassy, United Arab Emirates
Jennifer Lambert – foreign affairs officer, International Information Programs, Department of State
Matt Alexander – Mercy Corps regional program manager, Latin America; founder of a non-profit in Colombia to help internally displaced people
Brendan Hayes – projects director, Banja La Mtsogolo, Malawi; oversees family planning and HIV prevention services to more than 700,000 people
Scot Miller, PhD student at Harvard, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences; modeling air pollution and greenhouse gases
Christina Faust, PhD student Princeton, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; focusing on how land use change impacts local populations and disease dynamics in Southeast Asia
Geoff Swensen, founder and in-country director of Stanford Law School’s Timor-Leste Legal Education
Jana Kiser, co-founder Global Learning, a nonprofit expanding educational opportunities for 20,000 children in Latin America
John Kiess, assistant professor of theology at Loyola University (MD); has been active in peacemaking efforts in Great Lakes region Africa, especially Uganda
Winnie Li - programming operations manager at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival and Doha Film Institute in Qatar
Alexandra Chirinos O’Rourke – in the fall will join the State Department's Office of the Legal Adviser
Lisa Yu, refugee officer, US Citizenship and Immigration Services
Kathleen Claussen, about to begin a fellowship at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, where she will serve as assistant legal counsel
Ibrahim Elshamy, currently in Egypt studying the political transition there
Cynthia Romero - Assistant Director, Transatlantic Relations Program, the Atlantic Council
Michael Osofsky, managing director, Baytree Capital, Hong Kong
Michael Solis, marketing director, OYE Honduras (Organization for Youth Empowerment)
This list does not include several Mitchells working in other areas related to State priorities such as professors of international relations, practitioners of international lawyers, and several officers in the US Armed Forces.