June 3, 2014

Confucius Institute board defends campus presence

The Governing Board of the Confucius Institute (CI) at the University of Chicago has issued an official recommendation to the University Provost to renew the University’s five-year contract with the CI. The recommendation comes after two Faculty Council meetings in which the nature of the recommendation regarding the CI’s presence on campus was discussed.

The recommendation is a response to a recent petition signed by 108 faculty members asking for the termination of the University’s ties to the CI. The petitioners claim that Hanban, the Chinese governmental organization that oversees the CIs at various universities and schools worldwide, screens the teachers it chooses to send to universities for links to dissident groups and controversial religious organizations. Though the University can reject the recommended professors, the faculty members’ petition asserted that this power has not been exercised.

The Governing Board, which is composed of various University officials and Chinese government representatives, made its decision with help from a report on the CI produced by three of the University’s China specialists: anthropology professor Judith Farquhar, history professor Ken Pomeranz, and East Asian languages and civilizations professor Judith Zeitlin.

The University has yet to make an official decision on whether or not to renew the contract with the Confucius Institute—though Divinity School professor Bruce Lincoln, a major proponent of the petition, said that the normal course of action is for the provost to accept the recommendation.

“I understand that officially, the University decision is that no decision has been made,” Lincoln said. “What has happened is that the Governing Board of the Confucius Institute at the University of Chicago—our branch of the CI—has made a recommendation to the provost. The nature of that recommendation was discussed at the last meeting of Council. The provost, of course, can do with that recommendation whatever he wants, but the normal course of events would be that he accepts it.”

There are more than 90 CIs across the world, with more than 70 located at campuses in the United States.