Repeal and Replace: The Confucius Institute

Dear fellow students,

Tufts University has an incredibly good track record for critical world-class thought and academic freedom. I’m afraid we may tarnish that if we continue our association with the Confucius Institute, an organization run by the government of the People’s Republic of China ostensibly to encourage cultural dialogue but in reality designed to manipulate academic discourse and present a skewed version of Chinese culture and history. Human Rights Watch advises that universities should “refrain from having Confucius Institutes on campuses, as they are fundamentally incompatible with a robust commitment to academic freedom.”

At this moment, a special review committee is overdue to present its findings and recommend a course for Tufts regarding our relationship with the Institute. I urge them to recommend the termination of our contract with the Chinese Communist Party and instead to uphold our university’s commitment to honesty, integrity and academic freedom. 

Our experiment with the Confucius Institute began in 2015, when Tufts signed an agreement with Hanban, a non-profit with links to the propaganda wing of the Chinese government. At that point, it was well-known that Confucius Institutes were political propaganda mechanisms. In 2011, Li Changchun, a party member and Chinese government official, related that Confucius Institutes have “made an important contribution toward improving [China’s] soft power.” But still, Tufts committed to providing office space and salaries to full-time and part-time staff for the institute. 

From the beginning, this relationship has been heavily criticized by professors, students and even government officials. Last year, U.S. House Rep. Seth Moulton penned a letter to President Monaco, noting that “ample opportunities and avenues exist to learn about the rich, historic Chinese culture and language through other means instead of an undemocratic government’s effort to restrict free expression and open dialogue on American college campuses.”

Unsurprisingly, I agree with Rep. Moulton. The university has manifold interests associated with the Confucius Institute’s contract renewal, including a positive relationship with China, a growing source of college applicants. Before a responsibility to grow application numbers comes a responsibility to academic integrity. Tufts expels students for alleged academic dishonesty. From a moral standpoint, the decision is not a difficult one at all.

Despite a history of budget problems dating back to the Madoff scandal, Tufts is a university rich with resources and opportunity. If we are committed to providing resources for Chinese cultural education, we can do so without bowing to the power of an oppressive and narrow-minded regime. Confucius Institutes refuse to meaningfully engage with issues such as the Tiananmen Square massacre, atrocities in Tibet and the current Xinjiang human rights crisis. In the face of such propaganda and academic dishonesty, Tufts should not renew its contract with Hanban and the Confucius Institute.

The review committee is likely wrapping up its due diligence. I urge all those involved to repeal our direct sponsorship of Chinese government propaganda on our campus and replace it with our own resources. We have no business sponsoring a soft power agency. This isn’t about fear; this is about integrity.

Sincerely,

Tys Sweeney


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