Publication Date

September 1, 1997

The Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars had a near death experience in early June when the House of Representatives voted to cut off its funding. However, the Senate appeared ready to grant a reprieve, voting to maintain the Center's present funding level.

The impetus to abolish the Wilson Center came about because of a critical report from the National Academy for Public Administration (NAPA), which had been commissioned by the House to review the workings of the center. The report criticized the center because it "currently emphasizes scholarly pursuits over its public policy objectives," according to the authors of the House bill. But dissenters in the House challenged these conclusions, arguing that the NAPA report "does not provide any quantitative analysis or substantive review of the scholarly outputs of the Center." Moreover, according to Charles Blitzer, the director of the center, the House's decision was based lion several misconceptions about the Center and what it does."

The House voted to give the center a mere $1 million for fiscal 1998—just enough to wind down operations. However, the Senate strongly supported the center's current funding level ($5.8 million). The difference will be resolved in conference later this summer. As a part of the Smithsonian Institution, the center relies on annual federal appropriations, which constitute the core of its funding, as well as income from endowments, private gifts, and grants.

The Wilson Center was established by Congress in 1968 to symbolize and strengthen "the fruitful relation between the world of learning and the world of public affairs." Through an international competition, the center annually selects about 35 scholars who receive support for their research and writing. Among the works previously supported by the center are numerous works of history, including Gertrude Hinunelfarb's The Idea of Poverty, Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie, and John Lewis Gaddis’ We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. The center also sponsors numerous other programs such as the Cold War international History Project.

Director Resigns

Even though it appeared that the Wilson Center would earn a reprieve, Blitzer submitted his resignation in late July. Although his leadership had been challenged by the NAPA report and the House, he rejected any connection between his resignation and the House's efforts to eliminate the center. He told the Washington Post that his decision was based on the imminence of his 70th birthday, the change in the political climate in Washington, and the opportunity to hand over the reins as the center moves into a new office building.

At the time of this writing a search committee to find a replacement was in the process of being formed. However, those concerned about the direction of the center and its selection of a new director should write to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1000 Jefferson Dr., SW, Washington, D.C. 20560.

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