Xenophobia and myopia knows no bounds, especially in America’s highly politicized and ideological and indoctrinating universities. This has now manifested itself in AAUP’s call for American universities to end or modify their sponsoring of Confucius Institutes in the U.S.
In a statement, the AAUP said:
Globalization has brought new challenges for the protection of academic freedom and other faculty rights. In the operations of North American universities in other countries, administrators often refer to local customs, practices, and laws to justify practices that the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) would not tolerate on North American campuses. In 2009, our two organizations adopted a joint statement—On Conditions of Employment at Overseas Campuses—setting forth appropriate employment standards for overseas campuses of North American universities and stating our commitment to see that those standards are met.
Globalization has also meant that university administrators have welcomed involvement of foreign governments, corporations, foundations, and donors on campuses in North America. These relationships have often been beneficial. But occasionally university administrations have entered into partnerships that sacrificed the integrity of the university and its academic staff. Exemplifying the latter are Confucius Institutes, now established at some ninety colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. Confucius Institutes function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom. 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.
Confucius Institutes appear designed to emulate the cultural ambassadorship and programming associated with, for example, the British Council, the Goethe Institut, and L’Alliance Franςaise. These latter three entities are clearly connected to imperial pasts, ongoing geopolitical agendas, and the objectives of “soft power,” but none of them is located on a university or college campus. Instead, their connections to national political agendas and interests require that they be established in sites where they can fulfill their mandates openly without threatening the independence and integrity of academic institutions in host countries.
Allowing any third-party control of academic matters is inconsistent with principles of academic freedom, shared governance, and the institutional autonomy of colleges and universities. The AAUP joins CAUT in recommending 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. More generally, these conditions should apply to any partnerships or collaborations with foreign governments or foreign government-related agencies.
The Telegraph in this article further explained,
China’s network of 300 Confucius Institutes – including 11 branches in on British university campuses – can be a lucrative source of funds for universities but are exempt from many of the basic rules government academic discourse.
They are designed to project a favourable image of China’s ruling Communist Party around the world through language and cultural programmes, but are allowed to restrict discussions of topics unpalatable to China’s ruling Communist Party such as the occupation of Tibet.
I find the AAUP’s statement disgusting. The purpose of the Confucius Institute is for Universities to partner up with some of the most prestigious universities in China to help disseminate Chinese culture and language to a world that is largely ignorant of it – or hold biased and distorted views of it. The promotion of Chinese culture and language means … well … professors that work within it should not have an agenda to denigrate it … such as by politicizing that they must have the freedom to teach, as the Telegraph article suggests, the “occupation of Tibet” in Confucius Institutes.
I have written in a recent post that many in the West seem to be infatuated with all sorts of conspiracy theories regarding the Chinese gov’t. Academic freedom does not mean that Confucius Institutes ought to embrace such “research agendas.” Just as a religious school / department does not need to dilute its curriculum or research agenda to make room for researchers whose research agenda is contrary to the core beliefs of these religions, or gay and ethnic or African-American or women’s studies department dilute its curriculum or agenda to make room for people who feels a curriculum blind to such focus is the only “objective” way to advance knowledge, so too Confucius Institutes need not dilute their purpose to make room for those who do not see a need for a special institute to promote and advance Chinese culture and language as a worthy academic pursuit.
Most Universities in the U.S. I believe will benefit from having a Confucius Institute. This is because in this day and age, there is simply too much ignorance and bias against Chinese culture and language. If you think promoting and advancing Chinese culture and language is somehow evil because that might contribute to the soft power of the Chinese Communist Party, that is a political position that should not become enmeshed in the promotion and advancement of Chinese culture and language.
Politics too often come in the form of “academic freedom” these days (see, e.g., this case study in Columbia University, or this op-ed opining that academic freedom does not mean a license to indoctrinate as most Western Universities do today, or this Conference on Academic Freedom: JFK, 9/11 and the Holocaust). U.S. universities routinely host programs with foreign government support where the purpose is to promote mutual understanding and awareness funded in part foreign governments. For example, a casual search for programs supported in part by funding from Japan reveal:
- Center for U.S.-Japan Studies and Cooperation at Vanderbilt
- Center for Japanese Studies at Michigan
- Japanese Program at Clemson
- Center for Japanese Legal Studies at Columbia
- The Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies at Stanford
Also – why limit the focus to strictly foreign government support? For example, with Japanese patronage – whether in the form of direct government, Japanese corporate, or Japanese philanthropist support – and with a charter that is aimed toward “understanding,” “friendship,” and/or “passion” for Japan, I bet that “academic freedom” notwithstanding, not too many faculties whose focus is to study Japan’s suppression of the truths on Nankin massacre, comfort women, or other war atrocities … or brutal annexation and continued occupation of the Ryukyus … or the Japanese government’s coverup of the true extent of Fukushima radiation fall-out (see also e.g. this) will be considered to be productive under these programs – much less promoted.
The existence of Confucius Institute doesn’t prevent the host Universities from supporting Conspiracy type defamatory studies about China outside the Confucius Institutes. Outside of such politically-motivated type of agenda research, I challenge anyone in the AAUP to come up with one documented case of infringement on academic freedom arising from the existence of Confucius Institute on a U.S. university.
The conclusion of the statement made by the AAUP shows its xenophobic roots.
The AAUP joins CAUT in recommending 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… (2) the university affords Confucius Institute teachers the same academic freedom rights … it affords all other faculty in the university; and (3) the university-Hanban agreement is made available to all members of the university community. More generally, these conditions should apply to any partnerships or collaborations with foreign governments or foreign government-related agencies.
[boldface by me]
If this is a truly “academic freedom” issue, the focus would not be just on foreign government or government-related agencies. This xenophobic fear is clearly expressed / intoned by the Telegraph article.
Earlier this month The Telegraph revealed that Cambridge University had allowed a charitable foundation linked to China’s former prime minister Wen Jiabao to endow a chair of Chinese development studies.
One academic accused Cambridge of allowing the Chinese government to “purchase a professorship” at one of Britain’s most prestigious universities.
Wealthy American and European philanthropists and organizations have long created endowments, why cannot a Chinese donor? The suggestion here is that Universities who accept “free” money will tend to be more empathetic of the viewpoints of their donors. Is that necessarily bad? If that’s bad, shouldn’t it be bad too when Americans and Europeans donate too, not just the Chinese?
AAUP should be ashamed for getting into this type of politics – and so cowardly running under the fake banner of “Freedom”.