Friday, September 04, 2015

Confucius deal fuels questions at WKU

Inside Higher Education reported last fall that the University of Chicago suspended its agreement to host a Confucius Institute following an unflattering article that appeared in the Chinese press. The decision was supported by a petition, signed by more than 100 faculty members, calling for the closure of the institute. The petition raised concerns that in hosting the Chinese government-funded center for research and language teaching, Chicago was ceding control over faculty hiring, course content, and programming to Confucius Institute headquarters in Beijing, which is also known as Hanban.

In June, the American Association of University Professors called on universities to cancel their agreements with Confucius Institutes unless they can renegotiate them to ensure certain terms can be met. The AAUP statement asserted that “North American universities permit Confucius Institutes to advance a state agenda in the recruitment and control of academic staff, in the choice of curriculum, and in the restriction of debate.” 

This fall, the faculty and students at Western Kentucky University are objecting.

This from the Bowling Green Daily News:
Western Kentucky University faculty and students are expressing concern over a contract signed by President Gary Ransdell for a new Confucius Institute building.
Faculty Regent Barbara Burch said some are bothered that the building would be solely for the use of Hanban – an institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education – and that WKU would have to return a prorated amount of money if the university wants to repurpose the building over a 50-year obligation with Hanban.
“We do not need a building for which the purpose of it is singularly controlled by Chinese Hanban for 50 years,” she said.
Senate Chair Kate Hudepohl
During an Aug. 27 meeting of the University Senate, the body unanimously endorsed a motion put forward by the Senate Executive Committee urging the contract be revisited, according to a digitally signed document from University Senate Chair Kate Hudepohl.
“The WKU Senate Executive Committee strongly believes that the Confucius Institute building contract signed by President Gary Ransdell is not in the best interest of Western Kentucky University,” the motion reads. “For that reason, the WKU Senate Executive Committee asks that Faculty Regent Barbara Burch suggest to President Ransdell, and to the Board of Regents if needed, that the contract be revisited and no contractual obligations be undertaken until that time.”
That motion was echoed by Student Government Association President Jay Todd Richey and Executive Vice President Nolan Miles, who introduced a concurring resolution at a meeting of the SGA Senate on Tuesday.
“The Confucius Teacher Training Institute is a project President Ransdell made with Hanban ... to construct a new building on (the) WKU main campus for training Chinese teachers on American educational procedure,” the resolution reads.
When the project was approved by WKU’s Board of Regents in January, Burch voted no while Regent John Ridley abstained. At the time, Burch told the Daily News the contract was unavailable. Burch said the contract was signed by Ransdell in December.
“And, therefore, the board approved it without actually having the contract in hand,” she said.
Hanban provided the university $1.5 million, Burch said, with the understanding that WKU would match that amount to construct a separate building for the institute, which currently operates on the ground floor of the Helm Library. Part of that is $800,000 cash and the rest comes in kind, she said.
Ransdell described during the January regents meeting how the university received funding for the building.
“Over the course of the past year, it was announced that they were going to approve 10 of these and two were going to be in the United States,” Ransdell said, according to an online transcript of the meeting. “So, we were in a pretty heated competition with the other 99 CIs across America to get one of these buildings.”
Burch said the time for revisiting the contract is now because the money hasn’t been spent and ground hasn’t been broken.
“The current contract as it stands is a bad deal for WKU,” Richey said in an interview with the Daily News.
Richey, who interned in China over the summer, said he’s invested in Chinese-U.S. relations and the Confucius Institute could expose students to a culture different from their own. However, Richey believes the contract gives the university too little say in how it makes decisions.
“We have to always ensure that contracts we sign and deals we make are in the best interest of WKU,” he said.
SGA resolution 1-15-F describes additional details of the contract for the building.
“The entire contract is non-negotiable and not only obligates the university to pay the entire cost of maintenance and operation ... but it also takes away the ability for the university to decide the court location if a legal dispute arises,” the resolution reads.
The resolution, Richey said, doesn’t represent SGA until the body has a chance to vote on it, which is expected Tuesday.
Ransdell told the Daily News that reversing the process now is not practical.
WKU President Gary Ransdell
“There’s a lot at stake here that I’m not at all willing to forego,” he said.
Ransdell said the building would dramatically strengthen WKU’s international reach. Although the university doesn’t condone everything about Chinese culture, he said, it’s still important “that we study and understand it in order for our students to be responsible global citizens.”
As for the obligation to cover maintenance and operation costs, Ransdell said such details are yet to be determined. Ransdell said the name of the building will be the Confucius Institute and not the “Confucius Teacher Training Institute” referenced in the SGA resolution.
The presence of Confucius Institutes at some American universities has generated opposition.
In 2014, both Pennsylvania State University and the University of Chicago cut ties with Confucius Institutes, according to Reuters. Professors at both universities complained that the institutes were too closely tied to the Chinese government.
Meanwhile, the American Association of University Professors has recommended universities cease their involvement in Confucius Institutes unless agreements are renegotiated to promote academic freedom.
“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 AAUP said.

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