RALEIGH — A report from the National Association of Scholars (NAS) details a rebranding of past and remaining Chinese Confucius Institutes in the United States.
The report by Rachelle Peterson, Ian Oxenvad and Flora Yan is titled After Confucius Institutes: China’s Enduring Influence on American Higher Education.
“The demise of Confucius Institutes, one of the Chinese Communist Party’s most strategic beachheads in American higher education, has not deterred the Chinese government from seeking alternative means of influencing American colleges and universities,” the report’s executive summary reads. “It has used an all-of-the-above approach to protecting its spheres of influence on American higher education, ranging from full-throated defenses of Confucius Institutes to threats. Among its most successful tactics, however, has been the effort to rebrand Confucius Institute-like programs under other names.”
Confucius Institutes (CIs) have been replaced by similar programs at 28 institutions, according to the report. Additionally, 58 higher education institutions have been found to be maintaining a “close relationship with their former CI partner and at least five have kept their CI program in place by transferring it to a new host.
“Institutions have entered new sister university agreements with Chinese universities, established “new” centers closely modeled on defunct Confucius Institutes, and even continued to receive funding from the same Chinese government agencies that funded the Confucius Institutes,” the report’s summary says.
The report says 64 colleges and universities have reopened a CI-style program under a different name.
It is also noted in the NAS report that certain nonprofits have been involved in finding new homes for CI programs and cites as the example of BG Education Management Solutions, run by Terrill Martin, the former CI director at Western Kentucky University.
The funding for and control of CI’s has been through the Hanban, an agency within the Communist Chinese government. In July of 2020, the Hanban changed names to the “Ministry of Education Center for Language Exchange and Cooperation (CLEC).” CLEC subsequently created sub-organizations including the International Education Foundation (CIEF) to oversee CI funding and rebranded CI programs.
A total of 118 Confucius Institutes had operated in the United States with 104 closing in recent years following investigations at the Congressional level and at the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
One of NAS’ case studies involving a CI that closed down is the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
The case study includes text of a letter sent by the school’s Interim Chancellor Joan F. Lorden to Hanban Director General Ma Jianfei describing how the school has to prepare for the “potential impact” of state legislation that may bar operation of a CI. In July of that same year, UNC Charlotte issued a statement saying it was evaluating its CI program.
“During the next six months we will evaluate the Confucius Institute programming to determine which aspects fit within our college 2021-26 strategic plan, which we are currently developing,” Nancy A. Gutierrez, dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences said in a statement at the time. “We will be guided by our commitment to prepare our students to thrive in a globalized world, and our efforts to expand relationships in the Charlotte region and worldwide.”
The NAS report also notes that some Confucius Classrooms, which are CI K-12 equivalent programs, continue to operate. In June 2020, North State Journal reported on Confucius Classrooms operating in North Carolina, including in the state’s largest district of Wake County.
In March of 2021, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) co-sponsored a bill targeting the influence of CI’s on college campuses. Senate Bill 590, titled Concerns Over Nations Funding University Campus Institutes in the United States (CONFUCIUS) Act, passed the U.S. Senate unanimously on Mar. 4, 2021, but has not seen any movement since.
A similar bill was introduced in the House in July of 2020 that had the same name and purpose as Senate Bill 590. The House bill, H.R.7601 – CONFUCIUS Act, also saw no advancement.