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Senate Passed Bill to Tighten Control over Confucius Institutes

On Thursday March 4, the Senate approved by unanimous consent a bill that would increase oversight of Confucius Institutes, China-funded cultural centers that operate on university campuses.

The bill will cut federal funding to a university or college unless its Confucius Institute on campus complies with stipulated provisions, including academic freedom, prohibition of the application of any foreign law, and granting full managerial authority of the Confucius Institute to the university.

The bill, introduced by Sen. John Kennedy, R-LA, will next be sent to the House for consideration. Original cosponsors include Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Rogers Marshall (R-KS), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).

On August 13, 2020, the Department of State under the Trump administration designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center (CIUS), which serves as the Washington D.C.-based de facto headquarters of the Confucius Institute network, as a foreign mission of the People’s Republic of China.

In October, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos jointly sent letters to the chief state school officers to warn that K-12 classrooms and universities nationwide are being targeted by the Chinese Communist Party’s influence operations, including the presence of Confucius Institutes on campus. “It may come as a surprise to many educators that hundreds of U.S. schools make use of a curriculum developed by an authoritarian government and taught by teachers who are vetted, supplied, and paid by that same government, in partnership with American schools and school districts. A review by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs found that approval from an institution affiliated with the PRC’s Ministry of Education is generally required when filling teaching positions associated with Confucius Classrooms.”

The American Association of University Professors, or AAUP, released a report in 2014 that recommended colleges take a deeper look at curricula and agendas brought forth in the classroom.

“Confucius Institutes function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom,” the statement said, also highlighting a lack of transparency. “Most agreements establishing Confucius Institutes feature nondisclosure clauses and unacceptable concessions to the political aims and practices of the government of China. Specifically, North American universities permit Confucius Institutes to advance a state agenda in the recruitment and control of academic staff, in the choice of curriculum, and in the restriction of debate.”