Confucius Institute at the University of Saskatchewan?

By: Allison Muri, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Saskatchewan

Rumour has it that an agreement has already been signed to establish a Confucius Institute at the University of Saskatchewan, affiliated with the College of Arts & Science. There are over 300 such institutes, which are established to promote Chinese language and culture, in almost 100 countries around the world. Two troubling issues arise from what may or may not be a fait accompli. First, these institutes have generated significant debate elsewhere because of issues concerning human rights and academic freedom (Ghoreish, Redden, Second, if a contract has indeed already been signed, then what is the nature of the agreement? Does signing an agreement imply a significant breach of the collegial governance that faculty have worked hard to achieve over the years? Still unanswered are questions about who gets to make the decision concerning whether or not the university agrees to host a Confucius Institute. Will the contract be available for everyone to see? What are the implications of our university “brand” being lent to this institute? We are told that China would provide startup funds and about $150,000 per year, with the expectation that the university provides 50% in-kind. Where will this money come from? Is it best spent on what China’s propaganda chief Li Changchun describes as “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda setup,” and what one critic says is most aptly described as “culturetainment” (Redden), when our own departments can no longer afford to hire sessional lecturers to deliver existing programs? At one time the university had a Department of Far Eastern Studies, established in 1964 to provide courses in the history, languages, literature, philosophies and religions of the Indo-Tibetan-China areas. The department granted BA and MA degrees, and the scholars there benefited from the academic freedom to which Canadian scholars are entitled. It was phased out in the early 1980s.

$150,000 does not go far, and certainly the allure of matching funding on the balance sheets is attractive; however, we might consider whether the university’s funds are capable of reviving some of what has been lost in our own academic programs, and without strings attached. According to Inside Higher Ed, the Confucius Institutes can be seen as benign, providing “language teaching, cultural programming, and China-related conferences and symposiums,” but the Canadian press has “recently called attention to a provision in Hanban’s hiring practices that discriminates against teaching candidates with a ‘record of participation in Falun Gong and other illegal organizations.’ The bylaws of the Confucius Institutes stipulate that ‘they shall not contravene concerning the laws and regulations of China.’” Further, the institutes “shall not involve or participate in any activities that are not consistent with the missions of Confucius Institutes” (Confucius Institute).

The University of Manitoba and the University of British Columbia have declined to have a Confucius Institute on campus ( The University of Regina, following other Canadian universities such as McMaster, has agreed to establish a Confucius Institute (University of Regina). Barb Pollock, VP of External Relations at the University of Regina, told The Epoch Times that she did not know about the rule that stipulates Falun Gong practitioners cannot work at the Confucius Instiute, but noted that “the stipulations in our agreement have everything to do with academic freedom” (Ghoreishi). Richard Saller, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford where a Confucius Institute was established in 2009, has explained that during their discussions of a $4 million gift from Hanban (matched by Stanford) to fund an endowed professorship in Sinology, fellowships, and collaborative programming with Peking University, a Hanban official conveyed concerns that the professor might talk about “politically sensitive things, such as Tibet.” Saller continued, “I said what I always say, which is we don’t restrict the freedom of speech of our faculty, and that was the end of the discussion. I’ve had domestic donors walk away because of that, and in this case Hanban did not walk away. … I don’t see any kind of insidious or subversive tone to this’” (Redden).

This item should come before Council in the near future. Consider attending (all faculty may attend).

Meetings are scheduled for:
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Thursday, March 1, 2012 (special meeting to consider 3rd Integrated Plan approval)
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Thursday, June 21, 2012

Council agendas are available at:

Christmas, Jane. “Confucius Institute Joins McMaster.” McMaster University Daily News. December 19, 2008.
Confucius Institute. “Constitution and By-Laws of the Confucius Institutes.”
Ghoreish, Omid. “Canadian Schools ‘Unaware’ of Beijing’s Discrimination in Confucius Institute Hires.” The Epoch Times.
. “Confucius Institutes break human rights rules.” August 10th, 2011., Elizabeth (2011). “Confucius Says … Debate over Chinese-funded institutes at American universities.” Inside Higher Ed. January 18, 2012.
University of Regina. “University of Regina to establish Confucius Institute to promote Chinese language and culture.” University of Regina News and Events Archive. March 18, 2011.

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