Confucius Institutes Threaten Academic Freedom

By Edward J. Graham

The AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure approved a statement in June that called on colleges across the United States and Canada to reconsider their partnerships with Chinese language and culture centers financed by the People’s Republic of China. Known as Confucius Institutes, these centers are subject to considerable oversight from the Chinese government that in some cases places limitations on academic freedom and threatens their scholastic integrity.

“Confucius Institutes function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom,” the statement says. “Their academic activities are under the supervision of Hanban, a Chinese state agency which is chaired by a member of the Politburo and the vice-premier of the People’s Republic of China. Most agreements establishing Confucius Institutes feature nondisclosure clauses and unacceptable concessions to the political aims and practices of the government of China. 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 statement calls on colleges operating Confucius Institutes to cease their relationship with the Chinese government or renegotiate their practices to support greater transparency and academic freedom. Roughly ninety colleges and universities in the United States and Canada currently host Confucius Institutes.

The AAUP recommends 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 Freedom 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.”

While the statement speci
fied that university partnerships with foreign governments should be held to the same standards of academic freedom practiced in the United States, it did not question the efficacy of cultural ambassadorships and programs hosted by foreign governments in off-campus settings. The statement can be found on the AAUP website at http://www.aaup.org/report/confucius-institutes.  

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