Politics

Other schools cut ties to this state-affiliated Chinese institute. Should Miami Dade College?

From left, Yongli Wang, Eduardo Padrón, professor Fangming Xu and Mme Yanping Gao, Chinese consul general, unveil the new Confucius Institute Plaque during the institute’s inauguration ceremony at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus in 2010.
From left, Yongli Wang, Eduardo Padrón, professor Fangming Xu and Mme Yanping Gao, Chinese consul general, unveil the new Confucius Institute Plaque during the institute’s inauguration ceremony at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus in 2010. Miami Herald file photo

Miami Dade College is under pressure to disassociate itself from a controversial Chinese government-affiliated institution that has been criticized and canceled at some American universities over concerns about propaganda and censorship.

In a letter sent to the college Monday, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio urged trustees to end their agreement with the Confucius Institute, which has hundreds of locations around the world. Funded and overseen by Hanban, an entity affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education, the institute has allowed the college to offer courses on Chinese culture and language at its downtown and Kendall campuses, as well as a “language-based” study-abroad program to China.

The program has helped the college broaden its global perspective since it opened in 2010 during an inaugural ceremony attended by Miami’s mayor. In November, college president Eduardo Padrón referred to the institute as “a treasure in our community.” The college praised the program as “a relentless driver of positive social change through the expansion of community education and enrichment services in Chinese language and culture.”

Confucius
Dr. Jim Yu, director of the Confucius Institute at Miami Dade College, May 16, 2015, at MDC’s Kendall Campus. Miami Herald file photo

But the Confucius Institute is also viewed by detractors as a quiet way for the Communist Chinese government to spread its influence across the world through classes over which it holds tight editorial controls that are written into its contracts with host universities. Rubio, who chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, warned Monday of “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.”

We know from multiple reports that topics, such as the status of Tibet and Taiwan, the fourth of June 1989 at Tiananmen Square, Falun Gong, and universal human rights, are off-limits at these institutes.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL.

“I remain deeply concerned by the proliferation of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms in the United States,” Rubio wrote in the letter, which was also sent to three other Florida colleges. “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.”

Rubio
Sen. Marco Rubio. Mark Wilson Getty Images

Rubio, who is from Miami-Dade, has strong ties to the college leadership: Bernie Navarro, who served as finance chairman for Rubio’s 2016 presidential and Senate campaigns, is a college trustee. Navarro declined to comment when reached by a reporter. A Miami Dade College spokesman said early Monday afternoon that he would look into whether the college had received the Rubio letter, but did not provide any further response.

In his letter, Rubio noted concerns raised by the American Association of University Professors, which in 2014 called on American universities to renegotiate their agreements with the Chinese government in order to seize control of the curriculum. The University of Chicago and Pennsylvania State University severed ties with the institute that same year. More recently, the University of Texas at Austin declined to host the institute after its consideration of the program became a political issue.

“We know from multiple reports that topics, such as the status of Tibet and Taiwan, the fourth of June 1989 at Tiananmen Square, Falun Gong, and universal human rights, are off-limits at these institutes,” wrote Rubio.

Rubio also sent his letter to the University of South Florida, the University of West Florida and the University of North Florida. Additionally, he sent a letter to Broward County’s Cypress Bay High School, which in 2015 became the first Florida high school to open a Confucius Institute. According to the Sun Sentinel, the school district launched the program with a three-year, $150,000 grant from the Chinese Education of Ministry.

The Institute has been a relentless driver of positive social change through the expansion of community education and enrichment services in Chinese language and culture.

Miami Dade College

Broward Schools spokeswoman Tracy Clark said district staff received the letter and were reviewing Rubio’s message.

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