The OU Confucius Institute will close soon in response to critical government reports addressing Chinese government propaganda and espionage activities spread through such organizations.
The Confucius Institute “seeks to support Oklahoma educators in their efforts to teach the Chinese language, and to assist Oklahoma businesses that wish to do business in the Chinese speaking world,” and the institute at OU is “one of the most comprehensive … in the nation,” according to the organization’s website. OU launched the institute in 2006 in partnership with Beijing Normal University.
Plans to close the institute were first reported by Grand Lake News.
OU Director of Media Relations Kesha Keith said in an email to The Daily that in March 2019, the U.S. Department of State conducted an inquiry into OU’s Confucius Institute and made “certain operational recommendations.”
“In that context, and against the backdrop of evolving programmatic, budgetary, and managerial needs,” OU began its own evaluation of the program, Keith said in the email. A faculty committee considered the institute’s ongoing efforts and recommended that administrators “seriously consider discontinuing” its presence at OU.
Keith said the recommendation was based on a number of compliance and risk factors, including “the concern that the Confucius Institute’s presence will threaten or undermine OU’s efforts to secure grants from a number of federal agencies, as well as OU’s ability to maintain its Department of Defense-funded Arabic Flagship Program and seek additional DoD funding,” along with violations of J-1 Visa guidelines requiring Chinese interns to teach while under supervision and the Confucius Institute’s failure to fully acknowledge to State Department officials that a Title IX violation had occurred.
According to Grand Lake News, the contract governing OU’s relationship with the Confucius Institute and its parent Chinese government entity requires a six-month phase out starting on the date OU officials notified the Chinese government of the closure, which was April 10.
A National Association of Scholars report called schools with Confucius Institutes, including OU, “naive” in allowing those organizations to occupy places on their campuses and engage in propaganda, potential surveillance of Chinese students and, in some cases, espionage and technology theft, according to Grand Lake News.
The FBI and the CIA have “warned repeatedly” that these institutes, which “pose as educational enterprises focused on Chinese language and culture,” actually help spread the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda and may also engage in espionage and theft of intellectual or technological property, according to Grand Lake News.
“The university will work to increase funding for Chinese language and Chinese studies programs for OU students,” Keith said in an email to The Daily. “The University remains committed to supporting its more than 600 international students and scholars from China, providing free immigration legal assistance and services to support their transition to and from the U.S.”