U.S. Professors Protest Confucius Institute

Confucius Institute can be found in more than 90 countries in the world. (Ronnie Leask/Geograph.Org.Uk)
Confucius Institute can be found in more than 90 countries in the world. (Ronnie Leask/Geograph.Org.Uk)

Yet another University in North America is seeking to expel a Confucius Institute embedded in its institution.

Confucius Institutes offer Chinese language and culture instruction at established universities and secondary schools. They provide the teachers and the curriculum, acting as an automatic service to schools eager for a high-quality Chinese program.

Named after the famous scholar and philosopher, the institutes’ stated aim is to facilitate cultural exchange between the East and West. Beginning in only 2004, there were already 400 institutes around the world.

So then why would 100 professors at the University of Chicago petition the University not to renew its 2009 contract with its own Confucius Institute? Put simply: academic freedom.

Confucius Institutes are sponsored by the Ministry of Education in China, and critics have pointed out that the institutes are little more than a PR arm of the Chinese Communist Party. These institutions impede the academic freedom that is fundamental to an American education.

At least this is what was written in the letter circulated at the University of Chicago. The letter pointed out that the Confucius Institute maintains power over the employment and training of all teachers. Teachers are not allowed to touch on certain topics considered sensitive by the Chinese government, including Taiwan and human rights issues, like Tibet or the Tiananmen Square massacre.

And while some Universities consider the absence of these topics part of the price to pay for the service offered by a Confucius Institute, the University of Chicago feels it undermines the flow of information and scholarly review fundamental to higher education.

They are not alone. Other organized efforts against the Confucius Institute have been carried out at the University of Manitoba in Canada, the University of Melbourne in Australia, and Stockholm University in Sweden.

For more information about why some criticize the institutes, please see articles in:

  1. New York Times
  2. The Sydney Morning Herald
  3. Times Higher Education
  4. The Globe and Mail
  5. U.S. Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
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