The George J Mitchell scholarship programme

 

Sir, – On June 3rd, The Irish Times ran a story by Suzanne Lynch with the headline, “Mitchell scholarship body claims ‘misleading’, says Rhodes”, referencing my book Shenanigans: The US-Ireland Relationship in Uncertain Times.

There was nothing “misleading” in my book. Suzanne Lynch quoted from my book: “The Mitchell has become one of the most desired scholarships for future American leaders . . . even though the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship has been around a lot longer and was much better funded by an endowment from the person for whom it was named, applicants are turning down Rhodes interviews for the Mitchell.” That is entirely correct and Elliot Gerson, the head of the Rhodes scholarship programme in the US, did not seek to deny that claim. Instead he claimed, without providing any evidence, that “relatively few students who believe they have realistic chances to win a Rhodes scholarship apply in the same year for a Mitchell scholarship”. As Mr Gerson has no access to the more than 300 applications received by the Mitchell scholarship programme, he has no way of knowing who has applied for a Mitchell scholarship.

Incidentally, there were several instances of candidates who have not progressed to our finals, who have won the Rhodes in the same year. And the same may be true in reverse. It is quite extraordinary that Mr Gerson deigns to assume the motivations and beliefs behind a person’s decision to apply for any scholarship.

For years, Mr Gerson has insisted that everyone who applies for a Rhodes and a Mitchell would prefer a Rhodes. He is unable to accept that many who opt for the Mitchell, or only apply for the Mitchell, may do so because Ireland and our programme makes more sense for them. Numerous testimonials from Mitchell scholars prove this point.

Minhal Ahmed will be studying next year at UCC as a Mitchell scholar. He wrote: “I declined the Rhodes interview to pursue the Mitchell for a few reasons, but primarily because I believed that working in Ireland alongside a global leader in the gut microbiome field, Dr John Cryan at UCC, would be the best next step for me in my scientific career . . . My decision to turn towards the Mitchell instead of the Rhodes was also rooted in the fact that I felt a much stronger sense of community within the Mitchell Scholars than the Rhodes based on the alumni I spoke to. I felt that with the Mitchell, I would be part of a community that paid attention to each other and lifted each other up (the fellows of fellowship!) for well beyond their Mitchell year.”

Many Mitchell scholars have similarly described their reasons for choosing our scholarship.

It is unfortunate that Mr Gerson feels a need to question those who choose Ireland and the Mitchell over Oxford and the Rhodes. For our part, we think all of these scholarship opportunities are fantastic and we are delighted and honoured that so many are choosing the Mitchell.

Finally, Suzanne Lynch inaccurately reported that in my book I criticised the Irish Government for cutting funding for the George J Mitchell Scholarship programme. I made no such criticism and the Irish Government has not cut any funding for the George J Mitchell Scholarship programme. – Yours, etc,

TRINA Y VARGO,

President,

US-Ireland Alliance,

Arlington, Virginia.