Univ. of Chicago professors want Chinese-controlled institute discontinued

Professors complain that the institute's academics are subject to political constraints on free speech and beliefs.

The Confucius Institute is affiliated with the Chinese People's University, an arm of the Ministry of Education.

More than 100 professors at the University of Chicago (UC) are demanding the school discontinue its Confucius Institute (CIUC), a Chinese government-affiliated organization that they say promotes censorship and prohibits academic autonomy.

UC entered into a contract with Hanban—also known as the Confucius Institute Headquarters—in September 2009 without prior consent or approval from the university’s Council of the Faculty Senate despite the Council having jurisdiction over decisions regarding teaching responsibilities. According to Hanban’s website, the public institution bills itself as “committed to providing Chinese language and cultural resources and services worldwide” as a product of the Chinese Ministry of Education.

Hanban partners with Renmin University of China, otherwise known as the Chinese People’s University. The school touts itself as a “national comprehensive research university” directly under the Ministry of Education and Beijing.

“Among the problems posed by Hanban’s control of the hiring and training of teachers is that it thus subjects the University’s academic program to the political constraints on free speech and beliefs that are specific to the People’s Republic of China,” states the petition provided to Campus Reform.

According to Bruce Lincoln, a distinguished service professor of the history of religions and one of the organizers of the petition, the school adds to the growing corporatization of UC, which has been making too many financial decisions while forgoing academic values.

“This is more politically motivated than censorship,” Lincoln told Campus Reform. “But any self-respecting university shouldn’t promote that.”

One issue the UC faculty is concerned about is Hanban’s ultimate control over the program. The organization provides the faculty, teaching resources and textbooks, even going so far as to paying the airfare for the professors they wish to send. However, UC has declined to receive textbooks from Hanban.

Lincoln explained that since Hanban is an agency of the Chinese government, the school technically falls under Chinese law. And because of that, Hanban teachers have been instructed to avoid “sensitive topics” to the Chinese government including Taiwan and Falun Gong.

“I’m in favor of adding a lot of classes [to UC], language classes in particular, especially if there is student demand,” Lincoln said. “But we should be picking our own faculty.”

Hanban’s five-year contract with the school is up in September. UC may choose to not renew the contract, but must give a 90-day notice. According to Lincoln, that puts some added pressure and intensity on the issue, especially given the fact that the Committee of the Council of the Faculty Senate, the committee which sets the agenda for the Faculty Senate in next week, is slated to meet with the provost and president of the university today.

Lincoln said he is hopeful that the committee will be able to accurately present the faculty’s case and concerns to the president so that they will be able to vote on whether or not to continue UC’s partnership with Hanban next week.

UC isn’t the only school that has struggled with the academic autonomy of Hanban. Last year, McMaster University in Canada discontinued its partnership with the Chinese government-affiliated program after a professor was discriminated against for practicing Falun Gong, a spiritual movement first introduced in China in 1992.

At press time, the petition had garnered 109 signatures, including several UC professors who teach Asian language courses and a Chinese mathematician.

Dali Yang, director of CIUC, did not respond to requests for comment.

Via The Chicago Maroon.

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