U. of Missouri Closes Confucius Institute After Criticism from State Department

BEIJING, CHINA - MARCH 1: (CHINA OUT) Security guard walk past the Chinese national flag at the Military Museum of Chinese People's Revolution on March 1, 2008 in Beijing, China. From March 1, the Military Museum of Chinese People's Revolution becomes the first national level museum which opens to the …
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University of Missouri (Mizzou) has announced that it is closing its Confucius Institute after the U.S. Department of State notifying the school that it is no longer allowed to have Chinese instructors teaching Mandarin without the supervision of a Chinese-speaking American.

The University of Missouri at Columbia is closing its Confucius Institute after the U.S. Department of State found that the institution was not in compliance with its policies involving visa practices, according to a report by Inside Higher Ed.

The institute — funded by the Chinese government — had been placing visiting Chinese teachers in local K-12 schools so that the students could be taught Mandarin.

Moreover, Mizzou had been allowing American teachers who do not know Mandarin to supervise the Chinese teachers, which school administrators say is no longer permitted by the U.S. Department of State.

Mizzou’s Interim Vice Provost for International Programs & Associate Professor, Mary Stegmaier said that the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs notified the school that — due to recent changes — Mizzou “would now be required to have a certified Mandarin Chinese language teacher in every classroom with a Confucius Institute staff member.”

“While Missouri-certified teachers were in the classroom with the CI staff, recruiting and supporting the necessary certified Chinese language teachers would be cost prohibitive,” added Stegmaier.

The report added that the teachers at Mizzou’s Confucius Institute were also arriving to the U.S. on J-1 exchange visitor visas, noting that these fall under the “intern” category, rather than the “teacher” category.

“Unsupervised teaching in K-12 schools is restricted to the Teacher category,” said the State Department in a letter to Mizzou obtained by Inside Higher Ed.

“By allowing exchange visitors in the College and University Student Intern category to engage in unsupervised teaching, the University of Missouri-Columbia is circumventing the strict qualifications of the Teacher category — a category for which the University of Missouri-Columbia is not designated as a sponsor,” the letter added.

The report added that a State Department official also told Inside Higher Ed that “student interns teaching Mandarin Chinese to minors in K-12 schools without proper supervision creates an area of concern.”

The State Department official continued:

When teaching a Chinese language course, they should be working under the supervision of an American co-teacher well-versed in the instructional material and able to speak and read Mandarin Chinese. If the interns’ American co-teachers do not speak Mandarin Chinese, even when a co-teacher is in the classroom to supervise the student interns, they cannot evaluate the substance or quality of information and language skills the exchange visitor is teaching and would not fulfill the purpose of the College and University Student Intern category.

Confucius Institutes have been under scrutiny in America for years, and especially now, amid tensions with China.

Additionally, politicians in Washington, D.C. are increasingly characterizing the institutes “as outposts for Chinese government propaganda,” notes Inside Higher Ed.

Mizzou is not alone in having to close its Confucius Institute.

The report adds that Arizona State, Indiana, San Francisco State and Western Kentucky Universities and the Universities of Hawaii at Manoa, Kansas, Oregon and Rhode Island have all closed their Confucius Institutes after Congress passed a spending bill in 2018 barring colleges with Confucius Institutes from receiving funds through the Flagship Language program.

Last October, the University of Delaware announced its plan to end its ten-year partnership with the Confucius Institute. In 2018, Texas A&M University terminated its agreement to host two Confucius Institutes at the urging of Representatives Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Michael McCaul (R-TX), who described the institutes as threats to national security.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.

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