Dr. Earl Fry spent his Fulbright year (1995-1996) in Canada at the University of Toronto and has not looked back. A Professor of Political Science and Endowed Professor of Canadian Studies at Brigham Young University, Dr. Fry spent the past year directing Brigham Young's Washington Seminar. During the 2011-2012 academic year he will be heading to Finland as Fulbright Bicentennial Chair in American Studies at the University of Helsinki.
“Much of my work has been international in scope,” he said in an interview with Fulbright Canada. “And, as time goes by, I am more focused on broader public policy issues and how we can improve human society.” Dr. Fry’s acclaimed book, Lament for America: Decline of the Superpower, Plan for Renewal, published by the University of Toronto Press, offers a critique of the current state of affairs in the United States. His current book project, entitledRenaissance America: A “Best Practices” Blueprint for Restoring U.S. Prestige and Competitiveness, aims to explore solutions for the problems he identified in Lament for America.
“I am trying to solve problems, which, frankly, is something that we don’t see a lot of these days. Academics seem preoccupied with theory and methodology, whereas I am interested in how can we improve the lives of people. My comparative research looks at best practices in the public and the private sectors, and asks what can we learn from Canada, France, Finland, and Singapore? As I get near the end of my career, these are things that seem to be much more important to me than they were at the beginning of my career.”
Dr. Fry, who took up his first Fulbright award in Paris, has always been interested in comparative research. “I spent a year as a junior lecturer at The Sorbonne in Paris. It was in the latter days of the Vietnam War, and there was a lot of turbulence in the world, but it was just fantastic experience. I taught US foreign policy to French students while we were still engaged in Vietnam! Obviously, it was quite controversial, but I really enjoyed it.”
Following his Fulbright experience in France, and his marriage to a Canadian, Dr. Fry began pursuing opportunities in Canada. He spent a summer conducting his research at the University of British Columbia. When he decided to apply for another Fulbright, this time to Canada, he offered to teach a course at the University of Toronto on the political economy of North America.
“I had a great experience at the University of Toronto teaching for two semesters. I continued to do research as well, on what former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson calls ‘hidden wires,’ or the notion that we have the largest, most expansive, complicated, bilateral relationship in the world. My sense is that we have to look beyond Ottawa, and we have to look beyond Washington, to see what’s really going on across our border. In short, we have to look at what states and provinces and cities are doing, on both sides of the border, and, at the same time, look at what is occurring in the private sector.”
Dr. Fry participated as a foreign observer in the 1995 Quebec Referendum on sovereignty during his Fulbright in Canada. “There are not many Americans involved in Canadian studies who speak French, particularly in political science or economics, so it was a fantastic time for me. I was doing my work in Toronto, but also observing first-hand what was going on in Quebec at a very momentous time, both for Quebec and Canada.”
Canada’s progress over the past several decades has become an area of concentration for Dr. Fry’s comparative research, as he advocates for many of the policies that Canada has adopted to reduce deficits and balance budgets.“I am happy to say that while I thought that Canada was going to remain hampered by huge government deficits, Canada has now adjusted. Among the G-7 nations, I don’t think anyone has done better in the past five or six years. The ship-of-state was clearly headed in the right direction, so to speak, and Canada went through eleven consecutive years of budget surpluses; whereas in the United States we’ve had five surpluses since 1961. So my notion is wow, if the Canadians can do it, maybe we can too, and in fact, why can’t we?”
“We’re so caught up in our own challenges right now. In a world which is becoming more globalized, and in which technology is changing at a rate never before seen in human history, we have to recognize that so much of what’s transpiring outside of our borders, where you have 96% of the world’s population, and over 80% of the world’s GDP, will increasingly impact us in the United States. We’re making some inroads in realizing this, but we still have a long way to go.”
While much of his research focuses on lessons learned for US policy from European countries and Canada, Dr. Fry says that the American example can offer some valuable lessons to the rest of the world. “I think that the United States still does a better job with respect to productivity. There is more innovation in the private sector in the United States, and more risk-taking. So there are lessons that would be useful for Canada, and certainly other nations.”
Dr. Fry believes that the United States should take the necessary steps to restore the close and vibrant relationship that existed with Canada prior to September 2001. “We’ve got to get to the point where we thin that border again, and where Americans become more cosmopolitan in their thinking. We are not only citizens of the United States, we are citizens of the world. We have to be actively engaged, and we have to contribute positively to what’s going on, and the best place to start would be our relationship with Canada.”
Dr. Fry feels that the United States should be working on the relationship by continuing to promote and grow educational exchange opportunities between the two countries. “More interaction is bound to lead to a more harmonious world. One of my laments since 9/11 is that we’ve thickened that border, and not just with Canada. We have become more suspicious of outsiders generally. We make it more difficult for people to get Visas to come to the United States; we make it more difficult for the best and the brightest to come to the United States to seek jobs; and, in so doing, we’re just hurting ourselves. For many decades, in the post World War II era, the United States was relatively open, and the best and the brightest would come seeking opportunity ... to get a higher education or start a business. This is what we need.”
“We need this cross-fertilization of ideas, we need people travelling to other countries so they can dispel stereotypes and actually understand and appreciate what’s going on in other societies. I just think that is the nature of the modern world, and perhaps the most important concept in the twenty-first century, is brain power. We have got to cross-fertilize that brain power. Cyberspace is going to help us to communicate, but in time we are still going to have to go to other countries and actually be immersed in other cultures to appreciate what is going on there. I just think that what we do in terms of academic exchange is absolutely imperative.”
Dr. Fry’s hope is that the Canada-US relationship will experience a renaissance in the near future, and that reinvigorating the most important bilateral relationship in the world would be extremely beneficial over the long term. “I just wish that we had a better appreciation on our side of the border of what’s going on in Canada. We really do take you for granted, perhaps because you're so civilized. We should be so grateful to have Canada to our North as such a great neighbour and friend.”
Earl H. Fry is Professor of Political Science and Endowed Professor of Canadian Studies at Brigham Young University. In 1995-96 Dr. Fry was Fulbright Visiting Professor at the University of Toronto. During the 2011-2012 academic year he will hold the Fulbright Bicentennial Chair in American Studies in Finland. His landmark book, Lament for America, was published in May 2010 by the University of Toronto Press. Among other things, Dr. Fry previously served as a Visiting Lecturer at the Sorbonne, Director of International Education and Canadian Studies at SUNY Plattsburgh, a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow, and Special Assistant in the Office of the United States Trade Representative.