The following article was originally printed in the Spring 1998 issue of International Educator.
NAFSA president, 1958–59
It is a joy to see the accomplishments and the strength that the current members of NAFSA exhibit as they carry forward the purposes for which NAFSA was formed in the late 1940s. I was fortunate to begin my career in international education at the University of Minnesota in September 1946 and to take part in the discussions that led to the formation of the organization.
My memories of NAFSA’s beginnings are primarily connected to those early pioneers, who were already at work defining the need for an association of professionals dedicated to improving the advising of foreign students.
Clarence Linton, Teacher’s College, Columbia, and the NAFSA’s first president; Allen Blaisdell, International House, University of California, Berkeley; Jim Davis, University of Washington, Seattle; John Mott, International House, New York; and Paul Chalmers, MIT, all emphasized the importance of our being able to share our experiences of working with foreign students. They suggested that we plan to have annual conferences for this purpose and later to begin a newsletter to expand our communication on a monthly basis.
Joe Neal, University of Texas, Austin, and Leo Dowling, University of Indiana, Bloomington, expressed concern about the scarcity of funding for our work and believed that organizing would help us to influence our administrators to fund our work more adequately. Joe also felt that we needed to organize to ensure that educational institutions were a primary source of ideas for planning and executing federal policies on international education.
Ben Schmoker, director of the Committee on Friendly Relations Among Foreign Students of the YMCA in New York City, reminded us of the need o involve the community in support of our work and in utilizing foreign students for educating students and community members about other cultures. The founding discussion were not always easy. Mother Eleanor O’Byrne, president of Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, and her cohorts were once moved to retire from our meetings, when we had become mired down in disagreements, to pray for our finding common ground.
Don Kerr, Cornell University, was author of the helpful publication called Immigration without Tears. He emphasized our need to organize in order to have an effective voice in dealing with the Immigration Service and the Department of State about policy changes that needed to be made.
Harry Pierson and Edgar Fisher of the Institute of International Education and Frank Colligan, and later Marita Houlihan, of the Department of State, were supportive of our plans to form an association. They helped us both financially—Harry served as treasurer of the organization in the early years—and by guiding and supporting our efforts to have an impact on planning and policy making for international education.
Cliff Prator, University of California, Los Angeles, an expert in the teaching of English as a second language, cautioned us about the difficulties that foreign students face when low English capability and cultural differences threaten their ability to accomplish at a level similar to that of which they would be capable at home. He encouraged us to include admissions officers and ESL teachers as members of the association. He also urged us to begin pressing our institutions to provide English-language instruction for foreign students or to admit only those student with satisfactory English ability.
I emphasized the need to provide formal training opportunities for our colleagues engaged in working with foreign students. E.C. Williamson, dean of students at Minnesota and an advocate of providing counseling and guidance to all students, influenced my ideas about the need for professional training opportunities.
Mary A. Thompson
NAFSA president, 1972–73
It was somewhat of a fluke that I was in Ann Arbor for the conference that resulted in the founding of NAFSA. But that did not diminish the thrill I felt in observing and being a part of a momentous event in the history of international education. I was just completing my first year on the staff of International House in New York. John and Celestine Mott were both planning to attend the Ann Arbor conference and decided to take two young staff members with them. Having the opportunity to meet the giants in the field was an experience I have always treasured: Paul Chalmers with his quiet but firm leadership, Father Ford and his five o’clock vespers, Clarence Linton with his calm voice of reason, Katherine Bang (Donovan) and her wonderful hats, Ben Schmoker and his persuasive oratory; and so many more who would carry leading roles in NAFSA’s development for years to come. It was a rare experience and proved invaluable as I continued in the field for the balance of my professional career.
Joe W. Neal
NAFSA president, 1961–62
NAFSA officially came into being at a meeting on the University of Michigan campus in the spring of 1948. The idea of the association was first planted during a meeting called by the Institute of International Education (IIE) in 1942 to discuss relocation of Japanese students from California graduate schools; it was the first time foreign student advisers had gathered together. A postwar meeting of IIE in 1946 again assembled foreign student advisers to discuss an expected influx of international students from Europe.
At a third national meeting in Chicago in 1947, the idea of NAFSA was conceived. A better-defined group of campus foreign student advisers considered, among other subjects, whether or not there should be a continuing association of campus international officers. Perceiving that discussion in a session called to consider this question was becoming negative, I arose to say that whereas relations with IIE were god and useful, we needed a horizontal association among those of us who worked on campus. Through acquaintance and correspondence we could learn from each other and improve our own programs.
To my surprise I was then named to a committee to make a recommendation on the subject. We met that evening. The group consisted of Dr. Clarence Linton of Columbia University; Larry Duggan, newly installed president of IIE; Elmer Thompson of the Committee of International Visitors of Philadelphia; and George Hall, executive secretary of the conference. We met until midnight over a bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label. The unanimous conclusion of the committee was that there should be an association to be entitled the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers—NAFSA.
The next morning at a plenary session of the conference there was a rerun of the previous afternoon’s debate. Many rose to argue that we should not form a separate organization when IIE was doing our job for us. “This is the third of three good national conferences,” someone observed. “Why not let them continue?”
I restated my position of the evening before and finally the plenary session, on a divided vote, agreed to appoint a steering committee to examine the question of a new association and to report to another conference to be called by IIE in the spring of 1948.
The conference-authorized steering committee worked a year to write a constitution and bylaws for a new association.
A point of contention once the new organization had been decided upon was its proper focus. Should it be campus programs or the agenda of an increasing number of nonuniversity groups? The compromise was that the board of directors should always consist of at least two-thirds campus-based advisers. Further reflecting the strong campus attitude of the steering committee, it was proposed that voting rights should be limited to institutional representative rather than individual members.
The year-long deliberations of the steering committee, hopefully preserved in NAFSA’s archives in Arkansas, provide a rational for the purpose of NAFSA. Members of the group showed imagination, dedication, and a realization of the significance of the international education movement which was about to burst upon the world and the United States.
Some decisions of the steering committee have been diluted by subsequent generations, but the principles adopted in 1947 and 1948 are as appropriate today as they were 50 years ago.
James M. Davis
NAFSA president, 1960–61
Early in 1948 I was hired on a half-time basis by IIE to assist Harry H. Pierson in preparing for a conference scheduled for May 1948 to be held at the University of Michigan. My task was to implement the ideas Pierson gave me for speakers and panel presentations. Occasionally we would meet with Larry Duggan, IIE’s president, and with State Department officials, including Francis Colligan and Donald Cook.
Simultaneously a committee of foreign student advisers chaired by Clarence Linton of Teachers College, Columbia University, put together a set of bylaws for a new organization, the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers. This was accomplished by correspondence and telephone conversations. Linton would send a draft proposal to the committee members, which they would revise and return to him. Then Linton would send the revised text for further consideration by the committee. I believe there were some six revisions during the 1947–48 academic year. This complicated but very democratic process produced the original bylaws under which NAFSA was born.
At the conference I served as executive secretary. I was visible in running the conference: making sure that each speaker was ready to speak, helping welcome the various advisers, and getting attendees to luncheon and dinner meetings. I was especially active in hosting the attaches from several foreign embassies who were in attendance.
Dean Newhouse attended the conference in order to hire the first full-time FSA for the University of Washington, where he was dean of students. By the end of summer I was at work at the University of Washington.
Ruth Haines Purkaple
Life member of NAFSA
Editor’s Note: Ruth H. Purkaple was program director of the Committee on Friendly Relations Among Foreign Students when, in 1948, she attended the founding meeting of NAFSA. The CFR brought the community’s concern for foreign students into the founding mix of university representatives at the Ann Arbor conference.
The Committee on Friendly Relations Among foreign Students (CFR) was founded in 1911 by Dr. John R. Mott, head of the World Council of Churches. The mandate was indeed in the title, and for the years between 1911 and World War II “the Committee” sent representatives around to churches urging them to contact nearby universities and extend “friendly relations” to foreign students.
For several years, the CFR had conducted a census of foreign students, which was published as Unofficial Ambassadors. By 1947 there were as many as 25,000 foreign students in the United States, and the burden of this census was becoming a drain on CFR’s resources. Before too long the census became a joint project of the CFR and the Institute of International Education, and then when they obtained a grant IIE took it over completely. [Today the census is known as Open Doors.—Ed.]
In 1947, Ben Schmoker convened a group of foreign student advisers, most of them from New York, who told us that the two major needs at that time were for someone to meet the foreign students when they arrived by ship from overseas, and to provide opportunities for the students to meet people outside of their academic community.
Thus was born the CFR Port Services. Staff and volunteers would go out on tenders to meet the students in the lounges of the big steamers. We talked with each student to ascertain plans and needs. Many of them knew very little about America and were unaware that the “cousin in Ohio” could not be expected to be on the pier in New York to meet them. We often had to arrange first an overnight stay in New York, then change whatever funds they had into dollars, work out ongoing travel, and notify schools of their impending arrival.
When a national meeting of “foreign student advisers” was called, we went eagerly to establish face-to-face relations with some of the people we had been contacting via phone and wire. Ben Schmoker had been active along with IIE in planning and calling the meetings. Soon, a secretariat was set up in the CFR offices with Ben as the executive secretary of the emerging national organization.