Faculty concerns over Confucius Institute contract

Posted on February 4, 2019 in In the News

Courtesy of Lisa Dorn

The Confucius Institute at Portland State is at risk of not being renewed if the contract cannot be amended to include First Amendment rights to faculty. 

CI is a non-profit public educational organization geared toward promoting Chinese culture and language. It also promotes study abroad programs and international Chinese teachers to come to the United States. The organization is affiliated with the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China and therefore connected with the Chinese government.

Currently, one of the main concerns is that CI has a great deal of say in how the curriculum is structured, which may be colored by political motivations from the People’s Republic of China. The fact that CI operates from within PSU, with limited oversight, is another concern for many of the faculty.

The affiliation with the Chinese government—which has been historically known to curtail human and civil rights within their national boundaries—has also in part contributed to some of the concerns expressed in June 2018 by the PSU faculty senate.

In June of last year, the senate passed a resolution between PSU and CI, which is set to expire this February. Within the resolution, it calls on the president to only renew the contract if the following terms are met: 1) PSU to gain “unilateral control” over hiring and overseeing staff and curriculum and 2) Enstate first amendment rights, academic freedom and other protections. First Amendment rights include freedom of speech. 

These stipulations imply that currently, CI faculty are not recipients of these protections under the current contract. 

“The senate resolution takes an either/or form,” said Thomas Luckett, presiding officer of the PSU faculty senate. “That is, it advises the president either to add certain new contract language to our contract with CI or to decline to renew the contract. I have been assured that the administration is pursuing the first of these two options.”

Ken Ruoff, professor of Modern East Asian History at PSU, reiterated his concerns over the relationship of PSU with CI. He described the cultural differences between the two countries—U.S. and China—and how differing political, cultural and social priorities can create differences in goals and motivations between the two entities, which then influence how the institution is run. 

China has a different understanding of the level of academic freedom afforded to participants by the educational program in the U.S., specifically in regards to PSU. This different level of understanding is leading to friction between the two entities, according to Ruoff. 

In a statement provided by Ruoff, he expressed that “a great Pacific Rim City such as Portland deserves a first-class China Studies Center at Portland State University…only if the Confucius Institute will be allowed to operate under the principle of academic freedom going forward. This is the only way it can contribute to university-level China studies. Otherwise, it should not be housed at PSU.”

CIPSU offers, according to their website, “non-degree Chinese language and culture courses” as well as “Chinese language teacher professional development and training” and “academic programs and lecture series related to Chinese culture and contemporary China.”

Currently, CI operates out of the Office of International Affairs located in the Karl Miller Center. If CI were housed away from campus, the CI would not necessarily need to comply with PSU expectations of academic and cultural responsibility that is currently the concern of the PSU faculty senate.

Author: Kevin Shank
Source: PSU Vanguard