During the past decade, the Confucius Institute has established itself at nearly 500 universities and K-12 schools in the United States and about 500 others around the world.
Now some professors are urging schools to break with the Chinese language and cultural nonprofit, charging it is a “propaganda” arm of the Chinese government.
This year several high-profile schools, including the University of Chicago and Penn State, jettisoned the program. But other prominent schools, such as Columbia University, UCLA, Colorado State University and the University of Oklahoma, continue to welcome Confucius Institute on their campuses, according to the CI website.
University of Chicago professor Bruce Lincoln said the Institute doesn’t honor academic freedom and its governing board is filled with members of the Chinese Communist Politburo.
“They have a story they want told, and that is to not be seen as a military and economic giant, but they want to persuade people [China is] a lovely place,” said Lincoln, who teaches the history of religion. “And they’ve been enormously successful.”
Lincoln said the institute’s books and materials place Tibet and Taiwan as parts of Chin, although University of Chicago didn’t accept those texts. He said teachers are trained to stop any conversations about Tibet or the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square if students raise the topics in class.
University of Chicago didn’t renew its five-year agreement with the institute last month, citing comments in a Chinese publication by Xu Lin, executive director of Confucius Institute headuarters.
University spokesman Steve Kloehn refused to provide additional information, but Lincoln said Lin bragged that she bullied the university president into ignoring faculty concerns.
The American Association of University Professors urged schools to break with the institute unless universities can retain control of recruitment and course work and protect professors’ academic freedom.
“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,” according to an AAUP statement in June.
The U.S. State Department expressed concerns in 2012 when it issued a guidance directive about Confucius Institute, saying only teachers, not professors or researchers, should be in K-12 schools and institute programs need U.S. accreditation. The directive did not refer to propaganda allegations.