On Aug. 30, President Padilla announced the closure of the Confucius Institute at Valparaiso University (CIVU). The decision was shared two weeks after a statement was released by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita that launched an investigation linking Valpo’s Confucius Institute with spreading propaganda for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Due to a requirement necessitating six months notice to leave the program, the Confucius Institute will close “effective March 1st, 2022. Until then, CIVU will continue its scheduled musical performances,” per President Padilla’s email.
The allegations presented by Attorney General Rokita state that the Confucius Institute, which provides cultural and musical education to Northwest Indiana, has been operating with illicit funding as well as spreading communist agendas.
“The directors and faculty at these Confucius Institutes are handpicked by loyalists to the CCP, with the stated intention of spreading Chinese propaganda and whitewashing history,” said Rokita in a statement to The Torch.
The Institute at Valpo has traditionally hosted concerts as well as celebrations for holidays and events like the Chinese New Year. In 2016, a group of Valpo students traveled to China through the Confucius Institute. In addition to university programming, outreach and language classes have been provided to several elementary schools.
The Institute is currently funded by the Chinese International Education Foundation which is a non-governmental organization. Until July 2020, this financial support came from Hanban, a group that has relations with the Chinese government and has received negative media attention for presenting an unreliable narrative of China. The hiring policy stated by Hanban does not allow for members of the Falun Gong religion to serve as teachers, a policy that has gone under fire for employee discrimination.
Since their initial launch in 2004, Confucius Institutes around the world have faced criticism for controlling the ideologies and framework in which Chinese culture and language is taught. In 2013, the Canadian Association of University Teachers called for the cease of all current and future relationships with the institute, citing problems with educational freedom.
The amount of institutes in the US has also dwindled, most notably with the suspension of operations with the University of Chicago in 2014.
“Only 38 universities continue to have these institutes in the United States. Eight of those are reportedly scheduled to close in the near future. Ours is the only one remaining in the State of Indiana,” Padilla said.
While it is unclear what prompted the report of Rokita’s initial statement, which was released just hours after the university’s announcement of the Beacon nickname, he has indicated that the investigation will continue despite Valpo cutting ties with the Institute. Upon the University’s statement of plans to end their partnership with the Confucius Institute, Rokita expressed his satisfaction with the decision.
“The University did the right thing by announcing it intends to finally end its relationship with its Confucius Institute,” Rokita said. “It’s also a positive development that the University has terminated its relationship with the CCP and has agreed that they will no longer receive funding to hire professors and staff through such affiliations. Our investigation into this operation, and possibly similar operations elsewhere, is not over.”
President Padilla denied any university ties to the CCP, promising that the university has been open with sharing the sources of its funding and instead using the Institute to spread knowledge of Chinese culture rather than political ideologies.
“While we strongly dispute the allegations the Indiana Attorney General has made, we will respond appropriately to his request for documents and information,” Padilla said in an email to the campus community. “The purpose of that investigation is to determine if Valpo did not ‘disclose its financial ties’ with the foreign source of CIVU funding, pursuant to Section 117 of the federal Higher Education Act. DOE [Department of Education] implements that law. Valpo has followed that law by regularly reporting to DOE China’s funding of the CIVU.”
Instead, the cause for the Institute’s removal was explained as having come from a multitude of government investigations into the program over a span of several years. Throughout 2020 and 2021, select congress members questioned the Institute’s place on campus. The most pressing complication of continuing to work with the Confucius Institute comes in the possibility of losing funding from the Department of Education.
The March 2021 S.590 bill, called the Confucius Act, includes restrictions on the DOE funding available to universities with Confucius Institutes. A former law, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 prevents the Department of Defense from providing funding to Valparaiso and all other universities linked with the Institute.
“This bill would impose tight restrictions on funding from DOE, other than student financial aid, to colleges hosting Confucius Institutes. A potential cut-off of DOE funding would be devastating to our financial position. This is not a risk we can take,” Padilla said.
Both Attorney General Rokita and President Padilla noted in their statements that no issues or controversies with the Confucius Institute or the CCP provide justification for attacks against the Asian-Pacific Islander (API) community. While Padilla used this to condemn the bigotry many API faced at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rokita has, as reported by the IndyStar, referred to the coronavirus as the “China virus”. Students who feel they are or have been targeted should fill out the University’s bias incident form, which can be found at valpo.edu/bias.
While the Confucius Institute will no longer have a role on campus after March 1, Padilla has committed to continuing to educate students on Chinese culture through alternate routes.
“While we will close CIVU, we plan to establish a new program to continue the cultural exchange of music and language with China and other countries. We will ask our music, language and international studies faculty to help us create this program which will operate without funding or staff from China,” Padilla said.
In addition to promising a new program to fill the gap left by the Confucius Institute’s closure, Padilla noted the value of international and multicultural students to the university and its mission.
“We also pride ourselves with having 188 international students from 28 different countries. They make us a richer and more enlightened community,” Padilla said. “We will continue to bring the world to our campus. We will continue to expose the world to the power of God's love and American democracy that is found on our campus. We can't think of a better mission as a Christian, comprehensive university located in the United States.”
Open financial records disclosing Valpo and China’s involvement are available here.
This is a developing story. The Torch will provide updates as more information becomes available.