Feb 222017

A Tennessee state legislator has issues with the three Confucius Institutes in Tennessee:

In a letter Tuesday to the presidents of three Tennessee universities, Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, wrote that the Confucius Institutes’ close ties to the Chinese government warrant “serious evaluation of the Institute’s presence on campus.”

“They are controlled by the Chinese government absolutely,” Daniel said.

The Confucius Institute program launched in 2004 to promote knowledge of Chinese culture on college campuses across the world, including at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Memphis….

In his letter, Daniel criticized China’s “blatant disregard for human rights” and claimed the institute sends hand-picked faculty from China to the United States who are instructed to “avoid classes that cover controversial subjects that the Chinese Government has deemed inappropriate — such as student-led demonstrations that resulted in the Tiananmen Square massacre.”

There has been plenty of debate about Confucius Institutes across the U.S. and around the world, but so far they don’t seem to be causing much controversy in Tennessee. For what it’s worth, the schools themselves seem quite happy with the arrangement:

MTSU President Sidney McPhee defended the Confucius Institute in a statement and clarified the school’s relationship with the program. The university has longstanding partnerships with Chinese schools, and McPhee has traveled to China every year since becoming president.

“Our goal in our relationship with the Confucius Institute is to build our international relationships between MTSU and universities in China at a minimal cost and without relinquishing any control over our own academic programs or instructional rigor,” he said. McPhee said the Confucius Institute does not conduct or oversee any for-credit academic courses at the university. The school has control over all credit-hour courses….

Daniel said he would not propose any legislation to coerce the universities into cutting ties with the program, instead he deferred to their respective boards.

The University of Memphis got its center in 2007, followed by MTSU in 2009 and UTK in 2013. The schools likely knew what they were getting into and thus are probably not in a hurry to stop their relationships anytime soon.

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