October 13, 2016
Posed to: Radha Pyati, President/Designee, UNF Faculty Association
I have read with concern about other schools having problems with the Confucius Institute in terms of unethical funding and hiring practices and violations of freedom of speech and academic freedom. Some schools have ended their relationship with the Confucius institute and the American Association of University Professors has warned against partnering with them. Has the Confucius Institute been thoroughly vetted and regularly reviewed?
Question: I have read with concern about other schools having problems with the Confucius Institute in terms of unethical funding and hiring practices and violations of freedom of speech and academic freedom. Some schools have ended their relationship with the Confucius Institute and the American Association of University Professors has warned against partnering with them. Has the Confucius Institute been thoroughly vetted and regularly reviewed?
Prior to the establishment of the Confucius Institute (CI) at UNF, a task force involving approximately twenty UNF faculty worked on the application for several years. During the course of that process, several universities in the U. S. decided to cancel their contractual relationship with China for their Confucius Institutes. At these universities, the major concerns were over matters of academic freedom and control of the CI budget. The provost and the Vice President for Student and International Affairs visited two Confucius Institutes, one at Georgia State University and another at the University of South Florida, to discuss the operations of the CI at each university and to inquire about any issues or concerns they may have encountered. At both schools, the CI has been very successful in promoting greater awareness of Chinese culture and language, and, in the case of Georgia State University, in promoting stronger business relationships between area businesses and businesses in China. There were no concerns expressed at either school of involvement with or infringement on academic freedom. Nor were there any concerns expressed about budgetary issues. The relationship has been overwhelmingly positive at both institutions. At the conclusion of this process, it was decided that UNF should move forward with its application for a CI. Our application was supported by Shaanxi Normal University, a school with which UNF already enjoyed a strong faculty and student exchange relationship. If, at any time in the future, either UNF or the Confucius Institute in China decides the relationship is not working satisfactorily, the contract may be cancelled.
The Confucius Institute at UNF was officially opened in October 2014. Its mission is to promote greater understanding of Chinese language and culture at UNF and in the Jacksonville area. Dr. Ronghua Ouyang was appointed Director, and Dr. Wen Wang from our partner school, Shaanxi Normal University in Xi’an, China, was also appointed Co-Director. Dr. Mauricio Gonzalez, VP for Student and International Affairs, was named Chairman of the CI Board of Directors. Since its opening in October 2014, the UNF Confucius Institute has sponsored and funded several important programs, including the following:
- Three Chinese language professors funded by the CI are teaching Chinese language and culture courses in the Duval County Public Schools (DCPS). Currently, five high schools, four middle schools, and two elementary schools DCPS are offering Chinese language and culture programs. Approximately 2000 public school students are enrolled in these classes. DCPS is so pleased with this program that they have asked for an additional two professors for 2017-19 to teach Chinese language courses in two more middle schools, DuPont and Lake Shore Middle Schools. A funding request for the additional professors has been submitted to the Confucius Institute headquarters. Duval County has the largest Chinese language program of any public system in the state of Florida.
- A Chinese Martial Arts professor is currently offering Tai Chi classes at UNF.
- The UNF CI helped organize and hosted the Celebration of the 10th Florida Statewide Chinese Competition at Bolles School. Twenty-five middle and high schools and nearly 500 students and teachers from across the state participated.
- The UNF CI organized and supported the 2016 Chinese Language and Culture Festival. Performances featured elementary, middle, and high schools in Duval County, and more than 500 students and teachers participated.
- The UNF CI helped organize and co-sponsored the 21st Annual International Conference of ACPSS, which was held on the UNF campus October 23-25, 2015. Over 60 scholars, including six UNF faculty members, presented scholarly papers and participated in roundtable discussions focusing on Cultural Exchange and Globalization.
- The UNF CI organized and supported a series of lectures, given by UNF faculty, for UNF students and the local community. Topics included: Confucianism and Human Life; Confucianism and Leadership Skills; Chinese Tradition, Western Culture and Society Today; Confucianism and Communication Skills; Meng Zhi and Confucian Tradition; Reading Classics and Building Happiness; Neo-Confucianism and American Today.
- Another lecture series is scheduled for this year, featuring UNF graduate Ben Giaimo, who recently completed his master’s degree at Shaanxi Normal University in Ancient Chinese Culture and Characters.
- The UNF CI organized and provided financial support in 2015 and 2016 for 36 UNF students and Jacksonville High School students to attend the Chinese Bridge Summer Camp in China. These camps bring together students from all over the world to study Chinese culture and language.
- The UNF CI facilitated and supported faculty and student exchanges between UNF and Chinese universities.
- The UNF CI arranged to have the Nanjing University Orchestra perform at UNF in Fall 2015. Faculty and students from the Shaanxi Normal University School of Music will visit UNF and perform in February 2017.
Clearly, the UNF Confucius Institute has enriched and will continue to enrich our students and thousands more in the Duval County Public Schools, providing Chinese language instruction and cultural programs, and greater awareness of Chinese culture. The experience to date with the UNF Confucius Institute, like that of many, many other CI’s in the U. S. and around the world, has been overwhelmingly positive.