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U.S. Professors Troubled by Confucius Institutes

University professors in the United States have joined their Canadian counterparts in urging universities to cut ties with Confucius Institutes unless the agreements that bring them to campus are reworked to guarantee academic freedom.

A report by the American Association of University Professors said universities “have sacrificed the integrity of the university and its academic staff” by allowing the Chinese government to supervise curriculum and staff at the institutes it has established on more than 100 North American campuses to promote Chinese culture and language.

“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,” the report by the association’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure said.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers raised the same issues in December following an instructor’s human rights complaint alleging discrimination based on her belief in Falun Gong, a spiritual group that has been banned in China.

The complaint led McMaster University in Ontario to close its Confucius Institute last year after the complaint was settled through mediation.

The Beijing headquarters for the Confucius Institutes, the Office of Chinese Language Council International, known as Hanban, did not respond to requests from The Associated Press for comment. However, the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, People’s Daily, ran an article Friday seeking to refute the AAUP report’s claims, quoting representatives from foreign institutions from Germany to Thailand who called them unfounded.

When reached by the AP, directors at several Confucius Institutes in the United States also defended the institutes, saying the AAUP doesn’t understand how they work.

“The university comes first, and then the Confucius Institute, which must operate within the rules of the university,” said Xu Zaocheng, director of the institute at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

“It is true that it is a program under the Chinese Ministry of Education, but the accusations reflect the Cold War mentality,” Xu said.

The Chinese “fund these activities, but they are not controlling them,” said Stephen Dunnett, chairman of the binational committee that oversees the University at Buffalo’s five-year-old institute.

“If they came here and said we will give you this money but we’re going to control it: We’re going to pick the curriculum, we’re going to pick the teachers by ourselves, and we’re going to teach or not teach what we want … What U.S. university would ever do that?” he said.

With more than 400 already now spread across more than 100 regions and countries, China expects to have 500 Confucius Institutes by next year, program officials have said, along with 1,000 Confucius classrooms in primary and secondary schools.

Universities partner with a Chinese school to establish the programs, with the host school providing space and an administrator in exchange for $100,000 or more yearly from Hanban, as well as textbooks. Teachers receive a monthly salary from the Chinese government of $1,500 to $2,100.

“We have free speech on campus, and to say these teachers are trying to indoctrinate the 19-year-old, 20-year-old students at the University of Chicago ― I personally have found it to be ridiculous,” said Dali Yang, Confucius Institute director at the University of Chicago, where more than 100 professors have been lobbying for eviction.

The AAUP recommended universities cut ties unless agreements with Hanban are rewritten to give the universities unilateral control over teachers, curriculum and texts, and Confucius Institute teachers the same academic freedoms as other university faculty.

Associated Press writers Didi Tang and Christopher Bodeen contributed from Beijing.

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