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Mizzou dumps its Chinese government center because it can’t tell if teaching is propaganda

Chinese ‘interns’ not allowed to engage in ‘unsupervised teaching’

The University of Missouri allows American “co-teachers” who don’t speak Chinese to supervise Chinese “interns” who teach Mandarin to K-12 students through a Chinese government-funded program.

This was too much for the State Department, which ordered universities with Confucius Institutes to put a “certified Mandarin Chinese language teacher in every classroom with a Confucius Institute staff member,” the taxpayer-funded university said last week. As a result, its Confucius Institute will close in August.

The directive came down in July, citing “changes in State Department guidance,” said Mary Stegmaier, interim vice provost for international programs. Mizzou can’t afford to recruit and support “the necessary certified Chinese language teachers” for the program:

Currently, 13 student interns through the CI teach Chinese language classes in Columbia Public Schools. All classes are taught while a full-time, Missouri-certified teacher is in the classroom. The school district plans to continue offering students Chinese.

Stegmaier said that the university is committed to working with CPS, ensuring that students will have the opportunity to continue progressing in their studies of Mandarin Chinese.

Confucius Institutes have drawn criticism across the ideological spectrum for years, notably from academic freedom organizations, which note they may teach preferred Chinese government narratives about contentious topics such as internal Chinese dissent. Ninety were operating in the United States as of July, according to the National Association of Scholars.

Lawmakers including Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Josh Hawley have identified them as vessels through which China can also engage in nontraditional intelligence collection and obtain taxpayer-funded research.

MORE: Senators pressure their universities to drop Confucius Institutes

Inside Higher Ed obtained the July 15 letter from the State Department to Mizzou, which put the kibosh on Mizzou’s use of J-1 exchange visitor visas under the “intern” category. The interns are not allowed to engage in “unsupervised teaching,” meaning the university is “circumventing the strict qualifications of the Teacher category,” the agency wrote.

A State official told the publication that interns should be “working under the supervision of an American co-teacher well-versed in the instructional material and able to speak and read Mandarin Chinese”:

If the interns’ American co-teachers do not speak Mandarin Chinese, even when a co-teacher is in the classroom to supervise the student interns, they cannot evaluate the substance or quality of information and language skills the exchange visitor is teaching and would not fulfill the purpose of the College and University Student Intern category.

The biggest threat to the viability of Confucius Institutes in the United States came last summer, when President Trump signed a law that bans defense funding for them and requires colleges to make public their agreements with Confucius Institutes. Inside Higher Ed counted eight Confucius Institutes that closed at American universities for this reason.

Read Mizzou’s statement and the news report.

MORE2 in 3 colleges with Confucius Institutes violated the law

IMAGE: AlexLMX/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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