What Is Lost In Hosting A Confucius Institute?
by Silence Dogood

The Globe And Mail published an article on February 7, 2013 entitled “McMaster closing Confucius Institute over hiring issues.” Essentially, the university decided to simply let the contract expire when it came up for renewal. The article cites that:

“The decision to abandon the partnership comes in the midst of a human rights complaint against
McMaster from a former teacher at the institute.”

“It was sealed by concerns over hiring practices—reported last year by The Globe and Mail—that appeared to prohibit teachers Hanban hired and sent abroad to staff the schools from having certain beliefs.”

A report “On Partnerships with Foreign Governments: The Case of Confucius Institutes” prepared by the Association of University Professor’s (AAUP) Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure in June 2014 recommended that:

“universities cease their involvement in Confucius Institutes unless the agreement between the university and Hanban is renegotiated so that (1) the university has unilateral control, consistent with principles articulated in the AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, over all academic matters, including recruitment of teachers, determination of curriculum, and choice of texts; (2) the university affords Confucius Institute teachers the same academic freedom rights, as defined in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic and Tenure, that it affords all other faculty in the university, and (3) the university-Hanban agreement is made available to all members of the university community.”

The University of Chicago, after receiving a petition signed by more than 100 faculty members last spring, decided to let the five-year agreement expire at the end of September, 2014. According to an article published by Inside Higher ED on September 26, 2014 quoted a statement from the University of Chicago:

“As always, the University is guided by its core values and faculty leadership in all matters of academic importance.”

Also reported in an October 1, 2014 article in Inside Higher Ed entitled “Another Confucius Institute to Close” reported that Pennsylvania State University would end its Confucius Institute agreement on December 31, 2014. A statement by Susan Welch, the dean of Penn State’s College of Liberal Arts, is quoted:

“We worked collegially with our partners at the Dalian University of Technology. However several of our goals are not consistent with those of the Office of Chinese Languages Council International, known as the Hanban, which provides support to Confucius Institutes throughout the world.”

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) began the Confucius Institute (CI) program in 2004 as an outreach program that has over 400 institutes worldwide (with nearly 100 in the United States). What make the CI outreach effort so unusual as compared to other similar efforts is because CIs are run directly by a foreign government and is subject to its politics.

According to an October 29, 2013 article in The Nation:

“Routinely and assiduously, Hanban wants the Confucius Institutes to hold events and offer instruction under the aegis of host universities that put the PRC in a good light—thus confirming the oft-quoted remark of Politburo member Li Changchun that Confucius Institutes are “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up”.”

With the PRC having control over curriculum, budget, and staffing of the CI on a university campus, the real question is why any university would want to participate in such a relationship? Could it be free trips to China and red carpet treatment for university administrators and cronies? If the PRC only wanted to encourage the teaching of the Chinese language, why not simply donate funds to a university for such a purpose with no strings attached? The PRC in ‘donating’ funds under the guise of “Confucius Institutes” is simply a way to advertise and influence the students and the curriculum of a university outside of the normal processes.

“An oppressive government is more to be feared than a tiger.”

It might be interesting to see if the Chinese staff of the CIs thinks the government of the PRC is oppressive. Clearly, world opinion ranks the PRC near the top of oppressive governments just behind the likes of Iran and North Korea. As a result, it is quite appropriate to ask, “What is lost in hosting a Confucius Institute?”

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