The American Association of University Professors on Saturday urged colleges that operate Chinese language and culture centers financed by the People’s Republic of China to either scrap the partnerships or renegotiate them to promote transparency and protect academic freedom.
In a statement approved last week by the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure and released here on Saturday at the association’s annual conference, the AAUP argues that many colleges in the United States and Canada have sacrificed their integrity and jeopardized academic freedom by giving the Chinese government considerable say over the centers, which are known as Confucius Institutes.
As things now stand, the statement said, the Confucius Institutes in place at about 90 North American colleges "function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom." It said the agreements that establish them feature "nondisclosure clauses and unacceptable concessions to the political aims and practices of the government of China."
In other business on Saturday, the AAUP censured Northeastern Illinois University for violating due process and academic freedom in denying tenure to a linguistics professor who had criticized its administration.
The association also moved, however, to let back into its good graces two colleges that had previously run afoul of it—the University of Northern Iowa and Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge—in response to efforts by the universities’ administrations to deal with the AAUP's concerns.
Questions of Control
The association’s decision to caution colleges on Confucius Institutes comes six months after the group’s Canadian counterpart, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, urged colleges there to stop hosting such centers.
Confucius Institutes, which began popping up at American colleges in 2004, have been touted by their host institutions as a means for them to provide far more instruction in Chinese language and culture than they would otherwise. Such colleges generally maintain that, although the centers are financed by a Chinese agency, Hanban, they have not led to any interference by the Chinese government in their host colleges’ affairs.
Some faculty groups at colleges have opposed such partnerships, however, arguing that the institutes involve the Chinese government in the affairs of colleges in ways that threaten shared governance and academic freedom.
The statement presented on Saturday to the more than 200 AAUP members on hand for the group’s 100th annual conference sided with the Confucius Institutes’ critics. It accused North American colleges of permitting the institutes "to advance a state agenda in the recruitment and control of academic staff, in the choice of curriculum, and in the restriction of debate." It urged colleges to scrap their agreements to host the institutes unless the agreements can be renegotiated to be open to scrutiny, protect the academic freedom of the institutes’ teachers, and give colleges unilateral control over all academic matters.
"More generally, these conditions should apply to any partnerships or collaborations with foreign governments or foreign government-related agencies," the statement said. It added, however, that Committee A was not concerned about cultural programs, such as those financed by the British Council or L’Alliance Française, that are not located on college campuses.
The members on hand for the AAUP meeting voted unanimously to censure Northeastern Illinois University in response to that institution’s 2012 denial of tenure to John P. Boyle, an assistant professor of linguistics who had been critical of the university’s administration.
Mr. Boyle’s tenure bid was overwhelmingly supported by faculty representatives and his department’s acting chair, but was rejected the university’s president, Sharon K. Hahs, who approved the 15 other tenure requests before her that year. The university’s administration has denied retaliating against Mr. Boyle, but the censure motion presented to AAUP members on Saturday accused Ms. Hahs of refusing to provide the association’s investigators with an adequate explanation for her decision.
Noting that Mr. Boyle was one of four linguistics professors who had been seen as leading a successful faculty movement to vote no confidence in Ms. Hahs and her provost, and that the other three linguistics professors had been tenured, the censure motion argued that Mr. Boyle "found himself paying the price" for the group’s opposition to the administration.
In other actions related to academic freedom, Henry F. Reichman, the chairman of Committee A, read a statement from the panel announcing that it had closed an investigation of the University of Northern Iowa, which had come under AAUP scrutiny over its efforts to shed faculty members in 2012. The statement said that the committee was closing the file because the university’s new leadership had remedied problems identified by the association and that the Iowa Board of Regents had reached an adequate settlement with faculty members who left their jobs.
A report issued by an AAUP investigative committee in December 2012 accused the university’s administration of unduly pressuring faculty members to resign as part of a cost-cutting effort. The administration had used a dishonest academic-program-review process, with little faculty involvement, to give faculty members the impression they faced layoffs if they did not accept buyout offers or agree to retire over two years, the report alleged.
The AAUP had been on track to censure the University of Northern Iowa at its meeting last year, but the association ended up recommending that its members postpone such an action after concluding that the university’s new president, William N. Ruud, was working in earnest to deal with concerns raised in the AAUP’s investigative report. In updating Committee A last month, the university’s AAUP chapter confirmed that the university’s administration had continued to work with faculty leaders to restore good relations and shared governance.
The AAUP considered removing from its list of censured colleges Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, which it had censured in 2012 for allegedly violating the due-process and academic-freedom rights of two faculty members. Instead, the association members on hand for Saturday’s meeting overwhelmingly passed a resolution from Committee A delegating to that panel the task of deciding when Louisiana State should come off the censure list.
The 2012 censure vote had been in response to Louisiana State’s treatment of Ivor van Heerden, a nontenured hurricane researcher who clashed with his supervisors and lost his job in 2009 after criticizing the levees that failed to protect New Orleans from flooding after Hurricane Katrina, and Dominique G. Homberger, a tenured biology professor who was suspended from teaching a course in 2010 following complaints that she had graded students too harshly.
The resolution offered by Committee A on Saturday said F. King Alexander, who took over as chancellor of the Baton Rouge campus and president of the Louisiana State University system last year, had demonstrated that Louisiana State had adopted policies to shore up due process and academic freedom and to prevent a recurrence of the events that led to the censure vote.
The resolution added, however, that it was too early to tell whether the university would be able to comply with a Committee A request that it significantly reduce the share of Louisiana State faculty members employed on a contingent basis. Asserting that the committee’s reluctance to remove Louisiana State from the censure list too hastily was matched by a reluctance to keep an institution that had taken positive steps on the censure list for another whole year, the resolution called for the association’s members to let the committee decide at its meeting in November whether to remove censure then or bring up the question against next June.
In matters unrelated to academic freedom, the AAUP confronted unrest among some members who are part-time instructors as it took up a proposal to increase, from $46 to $75, how much its national office will annually charge new collective-bargaining units for each of their members who is an adjunct faculty member or graduate student.
Howard J. Bunsis, chairman of the American Association of University Professors’ Collective Bargaining Congress and an accounting professor at Eastern Michigan University, told the crowd that the AAUP was charging its collective-bargaining units less per such members than other unions that organize them, and needed to charge more to make organizing new bargaining units cost effective.
Some adjunct faculty members protested, however, that the increase would make joining the AAUP too expensive for adjuncts, hurting the AAUP’s efforts to compete with other unions in organizing non-tenure-track faculty members. They said the association should find some other way to finance such organizing efforts.
The members on hand for the meeting ended up approving the increase by a vote of 93 to 13.