The South Dakota Board of Regents held a special teleconference yesterday to deal with a single agenda item: the creation of a Confucius Institute on the NSU campus. The Chinese government, through Hanban, an affiliate of the Chinese Ministry of Education, supports hundreds of Confucius Institutes at universities and secondary schools around the world to teach Chinese language and culture.
Northern State was looking for $400,000 from the Legislature to fund its Confucius Institute. Our legislators prioritized tax dollars for covering their expenses in traveling to the governor’s inauguration, so NSU found help elsewhere:
After extensive discussions here and in China, NSU is asking for approval of the attached MOA with the University of Jinan (UJN) for the development of a Confucius Institute (CI). The CI will provide basic Mandarin instruction and associated programs at NSU that encourage understanding of Chinese culture that are to be essentially cost-free operationally. Although tuition and fee revenues from these activities would be modest, an anonymous pledge of $400,000 from a private donor is expected to cover any startup costs not provided by the Chinese funding entity, Hanban (CIH or Confucius Institute Headquarters). CIH will provide $150,000 in startup funds, a 3,000 volume library of Chinese books and teaching materials, and airfares for all visiting personnel. Base funding and cost reimbursements of budgetary needs will not require substantial fronting of expenses by NSU due to an annual base funding system that is used by Hanban. All salaries of visiting personnel will also be provided via CIH. NSU will provide residence hall housing for visiting Chinese instructors [South Dakota Board of Regents, Agenda Item 2, teleconference, 2015.03.18].
Confucius Institutes have been criticized as toeholds for threatening academic freedom and usurping university authority to hire and fire faculty. Such concerns contributed to the University of Chicago’s decision last September to end its collaboration with Hanban.
According to the memorandum of understanding approved unanimously by the Regents yesterday, NSU retains the authority to interview and approve all teaching candidates nominated by the University of Jinan. The memorandum also establishes that NSU will make sure the Confucius Institute will adhere “to the Board of Regents (BOR) policies, including, specifically, policies on Academic Freedom and Freedom in Learning, and anti-discrimination provisions….” The Confucius Institute thus appears not to be a threat to academic freedom on campus, though I’ll be watching for democracy and human rights in the Mandarin 201 vocab lists.
NSU’s hosting a Confucius Institute fits the spirit of Senate Concurrent Resolution 5, in which the 2015 Legislature declared its support for closer U.S.–China relations. However, the Chinese government’s toehold in Aberdeen could cross wires with the Legislature’s long-standing resolve to support Taiwan, manifested most recently by this year’s SCR 2. Hanban chief Xu Lin has said her teachers are committed to the idea that “Taiwan belongs to China.” Perhaps Taiwan supporters in the Legislature will feel the need to invite Taiwan’s own soft-power diplomacy to balance Beijing’s influence with a Taiwan Academy.
Northern State University will hold a signing ceremony to welcome our new Chinese
overlords partners in global language and culture in April, exact date TBA.
Just don’t come crying Socialism!, my conservative friends, or you’ll end up on The Daily Show: