USF started a partnership with the Confucius Institute in 2008, but a letter sent from Sen. Marco Rubio (R) is calling for the university to consider terminating the agreement.
The USF Confucius Institute offers Chinese focused culture and language classes along with Chinese events on campus. However, over the years accusations against the different Confucius Institutes across the country have raised concerns.
“There are presently more than 100 Confucius Institutes, in addition to Confucius Classrooms at the K-12 level in the United States, including several in the state of Florida,” Rubio wrote. “These institutes are overseen by a branch of the Chinese Ministry of Education, and are instructed to only teach versions of Chinese history, culture or current events that are explicitly approved by the Chinese Government and Communist Party.”
Rubio also sent the letter to the University of North Florida, the University of West Florida, Miami Dade College and Cypress Bay High School.
“I can confirm that USF received the letter and we will respond to Senator Rubio in the near future,” university spokesman Adam Freeman said in an email to The Oracle.
USF was the first university in Florida to found a Confucius Institute when creating a partnership with Qingdao University. According to the USF World website, the institute is supported by Qingdao and the Chinese Ministry of Education.
It is this connection that led to the National Association of Scholars to write a report titled “Outsourced to China: Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education,” which outlines concerns about the Chinese government influencing American education and by extension Americans’ opinions on China.
“There is mounting concern about the Chinese government’s increasingly aggressive attempts to use “Confucius Institutes” and other means to influence foreign academic institutions and critical analysis of China’s past history and present policies,” Rubio wrote. “Additionally, the (People’s Republic of China) continues its efforts to interfere in multilateral institutions, threaten and intimidate rights defenders and their families, and impose censorship mechanisms on foreign publishers and social media companies.”
The institute provides “academic support” to not only the USF Chinese program, but also language programs at local K-12 schools. Additionally, it puts on cultural performances and lectures, non-credit classes for people over the age of 50 and basic Chinese language courses for employees.
According to the site, the institute usually lends two teachers to the USF Chinese language program who “strictly follow USF’s curriculum” while teaching about 46 students per semester. These classes have included “Ethnic Minority Cultures in China” and “Business Chinese.”
Other universities in the past have allowed Confucius Institute agreements to expire. The University of Chicago discontinued the agreement in 2014 after faculty outcry and Penn State followed suit shortly after.
Rubio heads the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
“I remain deeply concerned by the proliferation of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms in the United States,” Rubio wrote. “Given China’s aggressive campaign to “infiltrate” American classrooms, stifle free inquiry, and subvert free expression both at home and abroad, I respectfully urge you to consider terminating your Confucius Institute agreement. Should you have any questions or concerns please do hesitate to contact my office for further discussion.”