on Confucius Institute


RBHS Chinese class prepares to create a video for the Chinese Festival. Photo by Daniel Kang.

Daniel Kang

After almost nine years of partnership, the University of Missouri — Columbia (MU) plans to end their partnership early in August, six months before its scheduled end. The University of Missouri cut ties with the Confucius Institute on January 15, 2020. 

The institute’s relationship with the school district is important, as it is one of the main pillars that Chinese classes at Columbia Public Schools (CPS) stand on. The institute is mainly funded by the Chinese Ministry of Education and is a part of similar institutes across America. Since 2011, the Confucius Institute has hosted events and exchange trips allowing students to understand Chinese culture at CPS and MU. 

Chinese teachers teach Mandarin Class for only one year and are paired with a full time public school teacher. However, after recent changes to U.S. State Department guidelines, which require state-certified teachers in Mandarin Chinese to be present in every classroom with Confucius Institute staff, it has become too costly for MU to continue its partnership with the Institute. MU has decided to contact their partner, Shanghai Normal University, of its decision Wednesday.

The Confucius Institute program, which includes 88 institutes throughout the US, has faced national scrutiny from professors, politicians, and FBI when it comes to academic freedom and espionage. Despite MU monitoring the Institute and an audit in early 2019 finding no evidence of espionage or wrongdoing, Senator Josh Hawley still believes that the Confucius Institute is a tool for communist propaganda.

“Found that they were living up to their mission, found no issues of barriers to academic freedom — which was one of the concerns raised by the senator – or any evidence of academic espionage,” said Mun Choi.[vc_text_separator title=”What do you think about MU’s decision on ending its relationship with the Confucius Institute?”]

Kevin Mao, freshman

“Honestly, I think that it was a bad decision because the Confucius Institute really provided a lot of structural support for the whole program, like they funded a lot of the programs and provided one year teachers to all the classrooms. These teachers were good for the classroom because it gave students another teacher figure to connect and bond with, simultaneously giving that transfer teacher a taste of American society. I want to add that these transfer teachers were born and raised in China, and understand the language probably better than a curriculum that a school board decides.”

Inessa Verbitsky, senior

“I don’t think it was a good decision because like it said in the article, there was no espionage found within the institute and the university cutting its ties with the Confucius institute limits the possibilities for high school and college students to get the full experience of learning Chinese and the remaining academic programs are likely less immersive than the program with the institute.”

Drew Graff, sophomore

“Overall, I think that Mizzou made their decision on reason and came to an agreement that allowed them to feel safe. I mean, the teachers weren’t certified through Missouri’s teacher requirements and the Chinese teachers didn’t understand an English classroom enough to keep some classes and students under control. Without this control Mizzou ultimately becomes responsible for the classes the institute has teachers in. That is why I think they cut their ties, due to not knowing and being certified under Missouri requirements. I also can understand that our classrooms are learning environments for the teachers as well, as the teachers are here to experience our classwork and our day to day class lives. Although confusion was most definitely there between the Institute and Mizzou, the previously shared learning space between the teachers from China and us American students will be drastically different next year. I think we will still be well educated in the language but I feel parts of culture and parts of firsthand experience will be lost as the teachers from the institute are walking pieces of culture that share their experiences with us whether we know it or not and vice versa. I think that the decision MU made had some warrant and I respect their decision but I am also in a place of uncertainty as the following years for Chinese (Mandarin) will be change and I think it is too early to say if this will positively or negatively affect us …”

Vishnu Arun, junior

“I don’t think it was a good decision. For one, most of the decision seems to be based on a speculation that the Confucius institute was planning some sort of espionage takeover, which is clearly untrue. As Hawley said, he believes that it is communist propaganda. I don’t see how that’s true, as all they’re trying to do is spread the Chinese culture and language with a good intent. Politicians like Hawley seem more interested in the preservation of traditional white American values than accepting and understanding other cultures. They seem hesitant to accept any other culture and deem it a threat to our culture in order to preserve our own. Additionally, with the federal guideline changes, I don’t see why we can’t still have Confucius institute teachers (who I believe are unpaid) with cps teachers. As Stiepleman said, there will still be a cps Chinese program. What’s the reason for undermining it by removing half of the teaching force? They will still use the same amount of money with or without the Confucius institute teachers.”