The Confucius Institute at Tufts University (CITU) is a program within the School of Arts and Sciences that was established pursuant to a collaboration among Tufts, Beijing Normal University (BNU) and Hanban, a public Chinese institution in the Ministry of Education. The program offers supplemental opportunities for students and others to practice the Chinese language and learn about Chinese culture. The CITU is not part of the Chinese language curriculum at Tufts and does not grant academic credits.
In 2015, Tufts, BNU and Hanban entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to begin the CITU’s operation. In welcoming a Confucius Institute to its campus, Tufts was among several dozen universities and colleges to do so. Currently, there are 89 institutes across the United States, according to the National Association of Scholars, with most being located on college campuses.
In the past two years, questions and concerns have arisen among some members of Congress and others about the potential for Confucius Institutes to act in ways that are contrary to principles of academic freedom and free speech and that pose potential threats to national security. A number of Confucius Institutes have been closed in the last year or so — 26 total since 2014, the vast majority since mid-2018, according to a National Association of Scholars review. Many needed to close because the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits universities that host Confucius Institutes from receiving Department of Defense (DOD) funding for Chinese language study, and the DOD has not provided any waivers. Tufts does not receive DOD funding for Chinese language study.
A committee to review the operation of the Confucius Institute at Tufts University was formed in May 2018 under the auspices of Provost ad interim Deborah Kochevar and Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser in anticipation of the expiration of Tufts’ Confucius Institute’s Memorandum of Understanding. The Committee, chaired by Diana Chigas, Senior International Officer and Associate Provost, was tasked with:
Conducting an assessment of the benefits of and concerns with CITU operations;
Providing a recommendation on whether or not to renew the agreement; and,
Recommending any needed changes to the agreement and governance of the CITU if Tufts decided to continue the relationship.
The committee undertook a comprehensive review of the CITU, which provides the following programs:
Non-credit Chinese language teaching program
Chinese cultural programming
Facilitation of academic exchange and collaboration with BNU
Short-term non-credit summer program for Tufts students
Academic conferences on Chinese language teaching and research
Tufts engaged in significant due diligence at the time of its initial negotiation of the agreements with Hanban and BNU, and incorporated language in its agreements that addressed certain concerns that later emerged on campuses elsewhere about CI operations;
Criticism of CITU came almost exclusively from parties outside the University who had not experienced the CITU’s programming and operations;
Tufts’ existing agreements and practices already aligned with many of the external critics’ recommendations for addressing concerns about Confucius Institutes;
CITU contributed to the language and culture of learning at Tufts;
There was no evidence of undue influence at Tufts; and
There was no evidence of suppression of academic freedom, pressure or censorship associated with the activities of the Confucius Institute at Tufts.
The committee also acknowledged that Tufts could face potential reputational risk if it were to renew its agreement with the CITU given concerns raised in Washington about Confucius Institutes in general.
After considering the Committee’s findings, the university – in a decision supported by the President, Provost and Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences – chose to renew its agreements with Hanban and BNU after adopting certain changes to fortify Tufts’ already strong governance of the Institute. The University is making the agreement publicly available in the spirit of transparency. Important considerations were:
the findings of the Committee that there was no evidence of undue influence, suppression of academic freedom or censorship at Tufts, and that students studying the Chinese language appreciated the CITU’s extra-curricular language and cultural programming; and
the University’s growing relationship with BNU, which had been facilitated by the CITU and has resulted in fruitful exchanges for our students and faculty, including BNU now hosting our Tufts-in-Beijing study abroad program. Our relationship with BNU provides our students and faculty with access to a highly respected Chinese institution of higher education.
The university’s decision to renew was conditional on agreement by Hanban to certain changes to the agreement, including that the:
MOU term will be for a shorter period (2 years);
MOU will include language to ensure that Tufts maintains exclusive management control over CITU;
MOU will make clear that U.S. laws and Tufts’ policies apply without limitation to the CITU’s programs and to all staff associated with the CITU, including citizens of China;
MOU can be terminated at Tufts’ discretion, with or without cause.
The agreement that the University concluded with Hanban incorporates all these conditions. In addition, the Dean of Academic Affairs of the School of Arts and Sciences, to whom the Director of the CITU (a long-time Tufts employee, senior lecturer and Chinese program language coordinator) reports, is establishing a program committee of Tufts faculty to provide additional oversight and advice regarding the qualifications of proposed Chinese staff, as well as the proposed and implemented activities of the CITU, to ensure that they are in accordance with Tufts’ policies and educational priorities.
The Findings of the Confucius Review Committee and Decision of the University Regarding the Confucius Institute at Tufts are available through the links above, along with the signed agreement with Hanban, which will be publicly available through the CITU’s website.
The University thanks the members of the review committee for their service and the members of our University community and the public who provided comment during the committee’s review process.