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Confucius Institute at University of Arizona closing

Confucius Institute at University of Arizona closing

2018 Arizona Chinese New Year Festival

The Confucius Institute at the University of Arizona offers a variety of cultural education programs to K-12 schools and around the community, like its Chinese New Year’s celebration.

The Confucius Institute at the University of Arizona is closing July 31 amid unspecified “changes in federal laws and policy,” the university says.

The closure follows similar moves at other universities.

Established in 2007, the Arizona Board of Regents on behalf of UA and the Confucius Institute Headquarters in China collaborated to bring the institute to Tucson. It teaches Mandarin and offers a variety of cultural education programs on campus, to K-12 schools and around the community, like an annual Chinese New Year’s celebration, that was canceled this year due to coronavirus concerns.

“To our partners in China and from our local community, and to Chinese teachers, CIUA staff and volunteers who have worked at CIUA, we are deeply indebted for their immeasurable contributions and dedication to the outstanding Chinese language and cultural program,” UA said in a written statement Wednesday afternoon.

The departure won’t affect the Chinese language program in the Department of East Asian Studies, the UA said.

International Collaboration

Since 2012, the Confucius Institute has held more than 400 events, from the non-credit language and performing arts classes to demonstrations at schools and Reid Park.

The agreement between the UA and the Confucius Institute Headquarters in China shows that the institute’s operations would primarily be funded by grants from China and money from classes and demonstrations.

UA and the institute’s headquarters each provided $100,000 for the institute’s initial startup. China then provided funding for at least two salaried Chinese instructors, curriculum design and materials as well as additional grant funding.

UA provided no-cost facilities and miscellaneous administrative support for the institute. It also paid at least $80,800 a year and allocated a total of $630,077 from fiscal years 2014 through 2019, UA said.

In 2013, both entities signed a second agreement that included UA providing annual funds that would not “be less than the amount provided by the Headquarters, in-kind or as otherwise...,” the document said.

Under Scrutiny

In February 2019, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs found that there was little oversight regarding universities and their institutes, including selecting its teachers and staff.

“Nearly 70% of U.S. schools with a Confucius Institute that received more than $250,000 in one year for Confucius Institutes failed to properly report that information to the Department of Education,” the senate subcommittee reported after an eight-month investigation.

Each institution is now required to report foreign gifts to the federal government by July 31, 2020.

The subcommittee recommended that U.S. schools ensure that “the Chinese government’s vetting, screening, and interview processes are aligned with their own teacher hiring procedures and protocols,” the document said. “The process of selecting directors and teachers should be fully transparent to U.S. schools. U.S. schools should also attempt to recruit Chinese language instructors outside of the Chinese government’s purview.

More than a dozen universities recently closed their institutes, including Arizona State University, Kentucky, Kansas and Maryland.

ASU’s institute shut down after federal law enacted in 2018 prohibited the Department of Defense from funding Chinese language instruction or supporting a program at an institution hosting a Confucius Institute, the Arizona Republic reported.

UA did not identify the specific changes in laws or policies leading to the closure here.

The UA says it still plans on finding other avenues to collaborate with China to launch another Confucius Institute, according to the letter.

“We will work with the Confucius Institute Headquarters to identify other institutions or nonprofits in Tucson or Southern Arizona that might be interested in hosting a Confucius Institute,” UA said.

“In the meantime, we will ensure that the activities of the CIUA, including language classes at public schools, continue for the remainder of the academic year.”

Contact Star reporter Shaq Davis at 573-4218 or sdavis@tucson.com

On Twitter: @ShaqDavis1

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