The University of Oregon's Confucius Institute is closing and the university will have a temporary hold on federal funding for its Chinese Flagship program, according to a post from Around the O.
The hold on the funding is due to a provision in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act that prohibits giving federal money to Chinese language programs at universities that have a Confucius Institute — a program sponsored by the Chinese government that is intended to promote the Chinese language and culture through a partnership with an American and Chinese college.
The Chinese Flagship program is eligible for a total of $343,000 in federal money, according to Around the O. David Austin, the Office of the Provost’s communications director, said the money takes the form of grants for 24 students and a grant for the 2019-2020 academic year. The UO is only eligible for these grants if it closes the Confucius Institute, and Austin said closure took place yesterday.
While the Chinese Flagship program receives federal money, the Confucius Institute received funding from the host university and Hanban, the Confucius Institute’s headquarters, which is associated with the Chinese government’s Ministry of Education.
According to public records, UO and Hanban entered into a contract in 2009 and UO President Michael Gottfredson “heartily endorse[d] the renewal of the collaboration between Hanban and the University of Oregon” in 2014.
The UO partnered with East China Normal University and the contract requires Hanban to provide $150,000 in start-up money while the UO provides staff and payment and sets a predetermined amount of money that will be matched by Hanban.
Dennis Galvan, dean and vice provost of UO’s Division of Global Engagement is away in China, but when reached for comment, said in a statement that UO faculty members received $60,000 from the Confucius Institute in 2018-2019 “to support speakers, workshops, conferences and other activities,” but that money will no longer be available now that the Confucius Institute is closed.
Some members of the Confucius Institute’s staff, such as Dr. Alison Groppe, hold other positions within the UO and will not lose their jobs as a result of its closure. Galvan clarified that two members of the staff, Courtesy Co-Director Maoqing Chen and Instructor Lei Lei, are members of East China Normal University who have special appointments at the Confucius Institute.
While the law was passed in 2018, the DoD’s orders to close the Confucius Institute come two months after the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ auditing division, released a report examining the agreements that 90 universities across the country have with their Confucius Institutes.
According to the audit, many government officials, including Congresspeople and the Director of the FBI, raised concerns about the Chinese government’s influence in the operations of the Confucius Institute.
“Several members of Congress and academics have raised concerns about the institutes’ agreements, operations, or hiring practices, or whether their relationship with Chinese entities hampers the ability of individuals at the institute or on campus to freely discuss, study or hold events on certain topics related to China,” the GAO audit states.
In the Around the O article, the UO says that all the events the Confucius Institute hosted were “selected by an academic advisory board of UO faculty, with participation from UO and the surrounding community.”
The Emerald submitted a public records request to the GAO in March asking for any and all documents produced during the GAO’s visit to UO in July 2018; however, the GAO did not produce documents as Congress must authorize their release.
Galvan said that although the Confucius Institute is closing, the UO’s relationship with China is not ending.
“The UO is exploring possibilities to continue to support faculty research and other engagements with strategic partner universities in China,” Galvan said. “We know that a great university is a globally engaged university, and the UO is going to continue to build international partnerships that enhance our students, faculty, and academic excellence.”