University Professors Question Rise of Confucius Institutes
Two prominent academic groups are urging universities to sever ties with cultural centers established on campuses in the U.S. and Canada by agreement with the Chinese government, citing a lack of academic freedom.
Confucius Institutes have spread to nearly 90 North American colleges and universities in recent years. But the nature of the institutes and the powers behind them have come under fire from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and its counterpart in Canada.
Beginning in 2004, the institutes were advertised by universities as a way for their students to get an in-depth education in Chinese culture and language. Hanban, a Chinese state agency that oversees the institutes, says it does not use them to promote Chinese political interests, but AAUP believes otherwise.
In a strongly worded statement, the association said the apparent use of the institutes as a means of exerting “soft power” has no place at their constituent schools.
“Most agreements establishing Confucius Institutes feature nondisclosure clauses and unacceptable concessions to the political aims and practices of the government of China,” AAUP said in a recent report. “Specifically, North American universities permit Confucius Institutes to advance a state agenda in the recruitment and control of academic staff, in the choice of curriculum, and in the restriction of debate.”
The institutes threaten academic integrity, the organization said: “Allowing any third-party control of academic matters is inconsistent with principles of academic freedom, shared governance, and the institutional autonomy of colleges and universities.”
AAUP urged universities to sever ties with the institutes until three conditions are met: The university is given control over curriculum and hiring decisions; institute teachers are given the same academic freedom rights as other faculty; and the agreement between Banban and the university is made public.
AAUP’s statement echoes the stance of its northern counterpart, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, which also advised schools to end their relationships with Confucius Institutes.
The objections by two prominent academic groups mark a blow to the Chinese initiative, which as of last year had established more than 400 institutes in more than 100 countries and regions, according to Chinese state media outlet Xinhua. Hanban’s goal is to establish centers in almost 500 large cities by 2020.