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EXCLUSIVE: Contracts reveal US universities ‘must’ accept CCP’s ‘assessment’ on ‘teaching quality’ at Confucius Institutes

Ben Zeisloft and Adam Sabes, Campus Reform

  • Through public records requests, Campus Reform obtained thirty-two universities’ agreements with the Confucius Institute Headquarters in China.
  • Several of the agreements revealed that American colleges and universities allow the CCP to have heavy influence in what is taught within the Confucius Institute.
  • This article is the first in an investigative series taking a closer look at American universities and Confucius Institutes.

Several American universities surrendered academic control of their Confucius Institutes to Hanban — the Confucius Institute Headquarters, an entity affiliated with the Chinese government’s Ministry of Education.

The Confucius Institutes are joint educational initiatives between Chinese and American universities. Though they are marketed as language and cultural exchanges, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated the program as a “foreign mission” of the People’s Republic of China that is “part of the Chinese Communist Party’s global influence and propaganda apparatus.”

Lawmakers such as Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) have argued that Confucius Institutes in their states should close, or have serious restrictions.

Through public records requests, Campus Reform obtained thirty-two establishment agreements between American universities and Hanban with active and recently inactive Confucius Institutes.

Six university agreements contained language that gave the Chinese Communist Party a level of control over the curriculum taught within the Confucius Institute.

Redactions have been made by Campus Reform for information that will be used in future articles in the series.

EXCLUSIVE: US universities … by Campus Reform

For instance, the University of Toledo’s agreement with Hanban, which is an agency under China’s education ministry, states that “The Institute must accept the assessment of [Hanban] on the teaching quality.”

Central Connecticut State University’s agreement with Hanban states that “The University Institute shall review evaluations and recommendations made by the Confucius Institute Headquarters on the quality of the programs and make any necessary modifications.”

Georgia State University, Southern Utah University, and Binghamton University all operate active Confucius Institutes which contain similar language, according to a review by Campus Reform.

Christine Billau, a spokesperson for the University of Toledo, however, told Campus Reform that the university is “solely responsible for the content we teach.”

James Giordano, a neurology professor at Georgetown University, and senior fellow in Biosecurity, Technology and Ethics at the US Naval War College, told Campus Reform that it’s “explicit” that this language gives the Chinese Communist Party control of what’s taught in the Confucius Institutes hosted on American soil.

“What is taught, and what is promulgated at the Confucius Institute only occurs under the auspices of the central political system,” Giordano said.

He added that Confucius Institutes are not an independent entity, but rather a “direct” form of outreach from the Chinese Communist Party, which controls the flow of information about China within these institutes.

“Any and all information that is promulgated through the Confucius institutes about China, the country, its history, its culture, its prior or current political status situation, posturing and or near term and intermediate to far term intent, in terms of engaging the global relationships is all done wholly under the auspices and examination of the [Chinese Communist Party],” Giordano said.

In addition, American colleges and universities signed agreements with Hanban that stipulated the American host institution “must accept” the “project assessments conducted by the Headquarters.”

Seven of the agreements included clauses that affirmed the university’s right to control the curriculum and manner of instruction at their Confucius Institutes.

These universities included Central Connecticut State University, Portland State University, Baruch College, University of Southern Maine, Southern Utah University, University of Wisconsin-Platteville, and Binghamton University.

Nevertheless, five of these universities — Central Connecticut State University, Baruch College, the University of Southern Maine, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, and Binghamton University — held agreements that also contained the clause stating that they must accept the Confucius Institute Headquarters’ assessment of their teaching or programs.

While several universities contain clauses that affirm their right to control the curriculum taught in the Confucius Institute, Giordano said the clauses don’t necessarily guarantee that.

“What the Confucius Institute will say in settlement is, you have academic freedom to conduct your academic operations, scholastic operations and provision of information within any and all sectors of the university outside of the Confucius Institute,” Giordano said. “But anything that is going to be done within the Confucius Institute, although can be appealed, will ultimately have to be headquarters approval.”

Paul Erickson, the chief communications officer at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, told Campus Reform that his institution’s agreement with Hanban to “accept the project assessment by the Headquarters” means that the university has to “provide adequate working space.”

Giordano said that he doesn’t agree with that interpretation of the agreement and calls the provision a “content dictate.”

“[The clauses in question] demonstrate and clearly explicate that the content of any and all information provision within the Confucius Institute is to be approved and shall only be rendered upon approval of ‘headquarters,'” Giordano said. “It is a content dictate [that] has nothing to do with the physical space.”

Erickson told Campus Reform that the the University of Wisconsin-Platteville would be ending their Confucius Institute on May 31.

Seth Cropsey — the Director of the Center for American Seapower at the Hudson Institute — told Campus Reform that surrendering academic freedom to a foreign nation hostile to the United States raises serious red flags.

“Giving a major power with nuclear weapons and openly hostile designs toward the United States access to American education doesn’t smell good,” he said. “Any surrender of academic control over the curriculum — whether that involves management, curriculum, teachers, or judging the quality and the character of what’s taught — any of that is highly improper and irregular.”

“Think of the equivalent. Suppose somebody in the U.K. decides that they want to sponsor a chair at Harvard in 1779? That would be crazy,” he added. “And nobody at Harvard in their right mind would have entertained such an idea.”

Cropsey said that the existence of the Confucius Institute is “silly and pernicious on its face.”

“There are plenty of Americans who study Chinese political thought going back thousands of years… so it’s not necessary to go to an organ of the Chinese government in order to find… teachers who can teach,” he added.

As of May 25, Central Connecticut State University, Georgia State University, Portland State University, the University of Southern Maine, and University of Wisconsin-Platteville all are in active agreements with Hanban for their Confucius Institutes, but are planning to end those agreements later in 2021.

Campus Reform reached out to every aforementioned university to request comment.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft

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