THE UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS BOSTON has severed its ties with the Confucius Institute, an on-campus academic center funded by the Chinese government that has stirred controversy on campus and among some Massachusetts politicians.
Katherine Newman, the interim chancellor at UMass Boston, declined to give a specific reason for the decision to part ways with the institute after 12 years on campus. She said concerns have been raised across the country about Confucius Institutes, and the decision was made to instead pursue negotiations with Renmin University in Beijing on ways to promote the study of Chinese language, culture, and history on campus.
“We felt this would be a better arrangement. It’s a more efficacious way of achieving our goals,” she said.
The Chinese government says it promotes the Confucius Institutes throughout the US as tools for cultural exchange. The institute at UMass offered non-credit classes in Chinese language and culture, programs for UMass students to study in China, professional development programs for Chinese language teachers, and Chinese proficiency testing. UMass Boston paid the director’s $100,000 salary and provided office space, while China provided $250,000 and paid the salaries of four or five teachers.
Last year, a group of UMass students, professors, and alumni wrote to then interim chancellor Barry Mills raising concerns that the Confucius Institute attempted to influence academic discourse. “As a result of their presence on campus, whether through direct intervention or preemptive self-censorship, important political and human rights are being silenced,” the group wrote.
Others have expressed concern that the Confucius institutes are used by the Chinese government as outposts for espionage. The FBI has said that it monitors the activities of the institutes.
US Rep. Seth Moulton has also raised concerns publicly about the institutes and in a private discussion with Newman. On his Facebook page, Moulton said the intent of the Confucius Institutes is to “distort academic discourse on China, threaten and silence defenders of human rights, and create a climate intolerant of dissent or open discussion.”
Twelve other academic institutions, including the University of Chicago, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Michigan, the University of Rhode Island, and Texas A&M, have severed ties with Confucius Institutes. Tufts University in Medford has said it will soon decide on whether to renew the school’s agreement with its Confucius Institute.