Tillis reintroduces bill to block federal funding of Confucius Institutes

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., listens as Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

RALEIGH — Last week, North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis and several of his colleagues reintroduced the CONFUCIUS Act aimed at preventing federal funding of institutes on college campuses backed and often operated by Communist China. 

Earlier in April, Tillis announced that he was reintroducing the measure along with Rick Scott (R-FL), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Joni Ernst (R-IA).  

“Any institution in the United States connected to the Chinese Communist Party should be stripped of federal funding,” Tillis said in the release. “They are echo chambers for an adversarial regime and threaten free speech in American colleges and universities. I am proud to work with my colleagues on this commonsense legislation to protect American values.” 

This bill would protect students and America’s national security by preventing federal funding from going to any institute of higher education that is connected to the Chinese Communist Party.” The release states. “Congressman August Pfluger introduced the companion bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives.” 

The Act will restrict funding to any higher education institution that has a relationship with a “Communist Chinese entity of concern” or a Confucius Institute (CI). 

Additionally, the Act will require the Department of Homeland Security to “ensure that institutions of higher education that has awarded a contract to, entered into an agreement with, or received an in-kind donation or gift from a Chinese entity of concern or Confucius Institute is ineligible to receive specified funds from DHS.” 

Tillis had previously been a co-sponsor of the CONFUCIUS Act in 2021. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) introduced the 2021 bill and it was co-sponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Roger Marshall (R-KS). 

“Confucius Institutes are an echo chamber for the Chinese Communist Party and threaten free speech in American colleges and universities,” Tillis said in a statement at the time the Act was first introduced. “I’m proud the Senate passed this legislation, which gives universities authority over the Confucius Institutes on their campuses. I hope the House chooses to protect freedom of thought on college campuses and joins us in passing the CONFUCIUS Act.” 

The year prior to the 2021 bill being filed, in May 2020, the College Republican National Committee and the College Democrats of America issued a joint letter that called for the “immediate and permanent closure of all Confucius Institutes in the United States.” The letter said the groups have “concerns over the present state of academic freedom.” 

Over the past three years, colleges and higher education institutions in the United States had begun to shutter CI’s on their campuses, however, in 2022 a report suggested that CI’s were still operating. 

The report, issued by the National Association of Scholars (NAS), detailed CI’s were evading closure by rebranding or renaming themselves.  According to the report, 64 colleges and universities had reopened a CI-style program under a different name and CI’s were replaced by similar programs at 28 institutions. Additionally, 58 higher education institutions had been found to be maintaining a “close relationship with their former CI partner and at least five schools kept their CI program in place by transferring it to a new host. 

The Hanban, an agency within the Communist Chinese government, has been determined to be a source of funding and control of CI’s in the United States. 

The Hanban changed its name in July 2022 to the “Ministry of Education Center for Language Exchange and Cooperation (CLEC).” CLEC then created sub-organizations including the International Education Foundation (CIEF) to manage CI funding and rebranding efforts. 

In the past, a total of 118 Confucius Institutes had been operating in the United States. Around 104 appeared to be closed in recent years, in part due to investigations at the Congressional level and by the FBI. 

North Carolina had at least two CI’s which are now closed down; one at North Carolina State University and another at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. 

CI’s also were found to have K-12 equivalent programs called “Confucius Classrooms,” many of which are apparently still intact and in operation.  

In June 2020, North State Journal reported there were multiple Confucius Classrooms operating in North Carolina’s K-12 schools, including seven in Buncombe County Schools and at least two in Wake County, the state’s largest school district. 

About A.P. Dillon 1309 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_