Penn State To Close Controversial Confucius Institute

Following in the footsteps of the University of Chicago, Penn State decided it will not continue to host a Confucius Institute for Chinese studies after December 2014, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The Confucius Institute, a collaborated project between the Dalian University of Technology in China’s Liaoning Province and Penn State’s College of Liberal Arts, has existed since August 2010. The Institute’s headquarters at Penn State are located in the Old Botany building with the Asian Studies Program.

According to Inside Higher Ed, Dean Susan Welch of the College of Liberal Arts commented that Penn State’s Asian studies program and the Confucius Institute do not have “similar goals” and, as a result, the relationship between the two faltered. The conflict is rooted with Hanban, the Chinese organization that oversees the Confucius Institute. The Hanban is an affiliate of the Chinese Ministry of Public Education that aims to spread Chinese culture and resources worldwide.

The Confucius Institute was developed by the Chinese government to offer educational opportunities for students pursuing Chinese studies at American and European universities. Currently, 97 schools in the United States are home to a Confucius Institute. At Penn State, the three main goals of the Confucius Institute are “language, culture, and research.” The organization sponsors cultural events and offers students grants and study abroad opportunities.

Professors in the department believe that the decision to move away from the Confucius Institute results from the cultural focus of the program, according to the report. As a research institution, Penn State wanted to utilize the Confucius Institute’s resources to support activities not only in language and humanities, but also science, politics and the environment.

Speaking to Inside Higher Ed, Eric Hayot, a professor of comparative literature and Asian studies said, “The Hanban regularly rejected [these ideas] as too far outside the official CI ambit (which they would tell us was mainly ‘cultural’).” The Hanban refused to adapt its plan for the Confucius Institute to Penn State’s growing Asian Studies department. In an effort to move forward, the university stopped using Chinese teachers from Hanban and the material that it provided; this caused University officials to question whether the program was worth keeping.

The Confucius Institutes have a controversial past among American scholars. Because the state of China has a hand in the curriculum, some feel that the CI programs “suppress discussion on topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese communist government, such as Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen.” In June 2014, the American Association of University Professors wrote a report opposing Confucius Institutes and their restrictions on academic openness, mentioning that, “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.”

In the absence of the Confucius Institute, students can continue to utilize the resources available in the College of Liberal Arts’ Asian Studies program.

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About the Author

Alex Calderaro

Alex Calderaro is a junior majoring in Supply Chain Management from Central Jersey. As a first generation Penn Stater, she has found a home here in several places, including her sorority, and, of course, Onward State. You can contact her at [email protected] or follow her on twitter @alexcalderaro.

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