The University of Kansas made the decision to close its controversial Confucius Institute after a federal law dictated no Department of Defense funding can be allocated toward universities that have Confucius Institutes, according to an email from the Office of the Provost Monday morning.
The Institute will close in January 2020. Interim Provost Carl Lejuez said the University will be continuing Mandarin language programs from K-12 students throughout the 2019-2020 academic year.
Confucius Institutes across the country have long been mired in controversy since their conception. The University’s institute was partially funded by an entity of the Chinese government. Critics say those institutes limit academic freedom. In 2014, the Association of American University Professors called on all public universities to cease their involvement with Confucius Institutes.
“Confucius Institutes function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom,” the AAUP said in the statement. “Allowing any third-party control of academic matters is inconsistent with principles of academic freedom, shared governance, and the institutional autonomy of colleges and universities.”
The Confucius Institute at the University opened in 2006. It provided K-12 Chinese language instruction across Kansas, offered training in Chinese language and culture for businesses, and coordinated cultural events, according to the email from Lejuez.
The institute was shut down due to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018, Lejuez said in the email. The legislation restricted money from the U.S. Department of Defense going toward universities that have Confucius Institutes.
“It does not reflect an end to our academic commitments in China or represent a shift in KU’s institutional view of the importance of research and teaching related to Chinese language and culture,” Lejuez said.
Lejuez said the University will continue to work with school districts and other partners to find alternative ways to provide Chinese language and culture instruction for Kansas schools beyond the 2019-2020 academic year.
“The university remains fundamentally committed to this work and believes that strong engagement with China is critical to U.S. higher education and to our mission to serve the state,” Lejuez said. “However a Confucius Institute is not a necessary component for KU to productively engage with China, support collaborative faculty research, and prepare students.”