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Chinese-funded institutes likely breaking American law, academic watchdog warns SUNY

The National Association of Scholars is ramping up its crusade against Confucius Institutes, the academic centers funded by the Chinese government but housed within universities across America.

In a letter sent to each State University of New York trustee, the 30-year-old academic freedom group asked SUNY leaders to investigate the six institutes at SUNY schools (Stony Brook, Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, SUNY Global Center and State College of Optometry):

Confucius Institutes have been known to compromise intellectual freedom and institutional autonomy. When conducting research for our report, NAS found evidence at these CIs that significant university authority—especially over the curriculum and over the hiring of teachers—had been unduly shared with or outsourced to an agency of the Chinese government.

That agency is the Hanban, which is in turn governed by a dozen Chinese government leaders – including those who run Chinese propaganda efforts – and who have no real interest in “cultural exchange,” said NAS President Peter Wood and report author Rachelle Peterson:

China is unique in insisting its cultural ambassadors are located at colleges and universities. Such direct influence on a college campus by a foreign government is alarming.

The NAS officials ask SUNY trustees to consider how universities would respond to the U.S. Department of Education asking to review the syllabi of American professors: “The university administration would never stand for this, yet the Chinese government enjoys just such leverage.”

They also warn that SUNY institutions may be violating state and federal antidiscrimination laws because of the “ideological litmus test” likely imposed by the Hanban, which chooses the Chinese applicants for the positions it funds:

It is troubling that American universities may effectively be permitting the Chinese government to screen out potential Chinese teachers who may challenge or dissent from the Chinese Communist Party’s rule. …

The Chinese government is known for hiring based in part on loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party and willingness to mind censorship sensitivities. We have no reason to believe the Hanban deviates from this policy.

SUNY schools’ own academic freedom is imperiled by the contracts they sign to host the Confucius Institutes, according to Wood and Peterson.

The contract language “can be used as a leverage [sic] to pressure the university to avoid publicly discussing matters that the Chinese government dislikes,” and it ensnares American professors too:

One professor at the University at Albany reported that on the day Hanban officials came to tour the university, faculty members’ doors had been stripped of banners referencing Taiwan.

Binghamton has been particularly touchy about its institute since the NAS report came out and “intent on suppressing criticism,” said Wood and Peterson.

The institutes should be shut down at all SUNY schools, but until then, SUNY trustees should impose full financial and contract transparency for the institutes, separate their budgets from university budgets, stop “outsourcing for-credit courses to the Hanban,” and renegotiate contracts – particularly to ensure all legal disputes are heard in America.

The trustees can show their support for academic freedom by requiring the institutes to offer “at least one public lecture or class each year” on a topic that is “neglected” in Chinese history, like the Dalai Lama’s views on Tibet, and ensure it is “fair, balanced, and free of external pressures.”

Read the letter.

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