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[Xmca-l] Fwd: [cores-ucfaculty] Memo on Confucius Institutes at the U of C

I am passing along a note from a colleague at the University of Chicago
that it seems people might find useful to know about.

Begin forwarded message:

*From:* Marshall Sahlins <msahlins@uchicago.edu>
*Date:* March 20, 2014 at 12:27:31 PM EDT
*To:* "cores-ucfaculty@lists.uchicago.edu" <
*Subject:* *[cores-ucfaculty] Memo on Confucius Institutes at the U of C*
*Reply-To:* cores-ucfaculty@lists.uchicago.edu

Dear Colleagues:
This memorandum is meant to follow Bruce Lincoln's call to action on the
matter of the Confucius Institute at the University of Chicago.
I have written two rather long papers detailing my own and colleagues'
concerns regarding Confucius Institutes at the U of C and many other
universities and colleges the world around--not to mention hundreds of
Confucius Classrooms in secondary and primary schools. An edited version of
one of these papers was published in The Nation late last year under the
title :China U" (http://www.thenation.com/article/176888/china-u). Another,
"On the Defense of Confucius Institutes: At the University of Chicago, For
Example," will soon appear on an internet blog. The latter piece includes a
summary of the compromises to the University's intellectual and moral
values occasioned by our participation in the global CI project--with
regrettable effects on our academic standing and reputation. I append that
summary below,as excerpted from the longer text. Note that "Hanban" here
refers to the the Office of the Chinese Council International, which runs
the Confucius Institutes world wide.

The kinds and number of compromises of its own intellectual and pedagogical
principles entailed by the participation of the University of Chicago in
Confucius Institutes must have regrettable effects on its academic
integrity as an institution, let alone its general academic standing and
reputation. Here in summary are several of the most evident of such
breaches of principle, as manifest in the statements or actions of
responsible University of Chicago parties:

--The University in 2009 committed itself to a contract with the Confucius
Institutes which included clauses on the teaching of Chinese language and
culture. By these provisions, Hanban was given the right to train, supply,
and pay the teachers, as well as providetextbooks and teaching materials,
of courses within the University's own Chinese language program. The
University signed the agreement in bad faith, as it never intended to give
Hanban control of the texts and class materials, and thereby of the course
curriculum. This added an element of hypocrisy to the problematic
provisions of the agreement with the Confucius Institutes, several of which
are noted in the following.

--The University violated its own statutes by not submitting this contract,
inasmuch as it included teaching provisions, for approval by the
representatives of the faculty in the Council of the Senate. Instead the
University claimed that a vote by the China scholars of the Center for East
Asian Studies constituted faculty approval.

--The University repeated this violation of faculty governance by
appointing a Confucius Institute in-house Committee of three professors,
all of whom are China specialists, to hold hearings and make
recommendations on the renewal of the CI contract.

--The University falsely claimed to be "fully engaged" in the hiring
process of teachers supplied by Hanban. At most it now claims a right of
refusal it has never exercised.

--The University ignored the fact that Hanban is guided by Chinese law in
selecting the teachers it sends, including laws that criminalize forms of
belief and free speech protected in the US. As a result, the University
becomes complicit in discriminatory hiring practices.

--The University ignored the fact that the teachers sent by Hanban to host
institutions abroad are trained to avoid or divert discussions in class of
subjects that are potentially politically embarrassing to the PRC .

--The University admitted that " a certain amount of self-censorship" is
involved in the activities of its Confucius Institute. It offered the
compensation that politically controversial topics could be sponsored by
other units of the University, thus sanctioning the principle that
censorship is permissible in any academic unit so long as it does not apply
somewhere else in the University.

--The University, affirming in official statements that its CI, like all
others, was "affiliated" through Hanban with the Chinese Ministry of
Education, thus failed to take or give notice that the Governing Council of
the Confucius Institutes, which sets the agenda of Hanban and receives its
reports, is chaired by a member of the Politburo and composed by high
officials of the PRC, including members of the State Council and the
Ministers or Vice-Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Education, National
Development, Culture, Commerce, and Finance.

--The University accordingly considered it inconsequential that research
projects on Chinese development proposed by Chicago faculty and students
are submitted through its CI to Hanban, which makes the final decisions on
approval and funding for approval and funding.

--Indeed, the University also ignored--perhaps because it was considered
impractical and unenforceable--that according to its own Constitution and
By-laws (Chapter 6, Article 36b), Hanban reserves the right to take
punitive legal action for any activity sponsored by a local Confucius
Institute without its approval.

These dubious aspects of Chicago's Confucius Institute notwithstanding,
many affiliated faculty as well as University officials are quite content
with it, citing the freedom in practice from the contractual restraints on
teaching Chinese, the quality of the Hanban teachers, the conferences on
family economics undertaken with our Department of Economics, and the
research opportunities the CI opens in China. This local satisfaction,
however, involves the University in compromises of its own academic
principles on a much greater scale. I noted this in /The Nation /article,
but as the editing necessarily compressed it, I spell out the point here.
For it needs to be considered that the interests of Hanban and particular
American universities are different in scale and character. As an
instrument of the Chinese government policy, Hanban's interests are global
and real-political. Its mission is to spread the influence of the Chinese
state worldwide, particularly in strategically consequential regions, and
above all the United States. Accordingly, with this larger objective in
mind, the Beijing Head Office is ready to make case-by-case accommodations
to American academic sensibilities: especially to prestigious
universities--/pour encourager les autres/. The apparent loss Hanban takes
in one local engagement may be an overall gain for the program world-wide.
By contrast, the American universities for their part are concerned only
with their own parochial welfare as academic institutions. Interested in
the short-term economic, teaching, or research benefits, they are inclined
to ignore or dismiss the unsavory political aspects of Confucius
Institutes, which is to say the larger implication of their own
participation, so long as they get a good deal. The larger implication is
that their participation lends support to a project that is inimical to the
academic integrity of other institutions even as it compromises their own.

When the establishment the CI at the University of Chicago was announced,
one distinguished professor emeritus objected in a communication to the
executive body (Committee of the Council) of the faculty legislature
(Council of the Senate):

"I do not doubt that, regardless of its own statutes on these matters, the
Confucius Institute has given broad assurances of academic integrity and
freedom to the University of Chicago officials and teachers. I do not doubt
it because the value of enlisting the prestige of the University of Chicago
in the cause of the international success of the CI initiative would make
any such concessions worthwhile, even if they were more than nominal. This,
then, is the ultimate concern: that we are lending our good name to a
political project that by its own by-laws infringes on our traditions of
academic freedom at the same time it transgresses on our ideals of human
rights, and in so doing we help spread these effects to other institutions
that are less able to refuse the financial inducements that accompany them."

In a few words: no matter how liberal or beneficial the terms of its own
participation, the University of Chicago, by hosting a Confucius Institute,
becomes engaged in a world-political struggle in a way that contradicts the
intellectual and moral values on which it is founded.

In the event, there is a direct relationship between the global development
of Confucius Institutes and the impairment of the University of Chicago's
good name. Judging from the adverse comments reported from many
universities in the US and a number in other countries, the damages to the
reputation of the University attendant on its establishment of a Confucius
Institute are tracking the spread of the Hanban project. In the shadow of
Hanban's success come expressions of disappointment, dismay, and
incredulity that an institution so well regarded for its intellectual
quality and academic probity should become involved in such a dubious
initiative of such an illiberal regime.

Marshall Sahlins

20 March 2014

Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology Emeritus;
University of Chicago.
Status: O