UO Confucius Institute to close

Shanghai skyline

The University of Oregon is closing its Confucius Institute because a new law approved by Congress last year prohibits academic institutions from running such a program if they receive U.S. Department of Defense funding for Chinese language programs.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2018 and subsequent federal administrative action forced the Division of Global Engagement to shutter the institute in order to maintain funding for the university’s National Security Education Chinese Flagship. The National Security Education Program is a pipeline program to promote foreign language and cultural expertise.

“Our Confucius Institute, launched by our own China-engaged faculty, has been a marvelous academic asset on our campus,” said Dennis Galvan, UO’s dean and vice provost of the Division of Global Engagement. “It has helped us campuswide to foster mutual understanding, constructive dialogue and evidence-based comprehension of China, its global emergence, its culture and its people.

“We would have very much preferred to retain both programs. But closing the Confucius Institute was necessary in order to protect the funding for the Chinese Flagship program. We regret having had to make such a choice.”

The Confucius Institute was started at the UO in 2009 to expand educational ties with China, promote understanding of China’s economic, environmental and technological advancement and foster cross-cultural understanding. It has hosted hundreds of academic and cultural talks, workshops and conferences, all selected by an academic advisory board of UO faculty members, with participation from UO and the surrounding community. There are about 90 Confucius Institutes across the United States and 500 worldwide.

Housed in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literature, the UO’s Chinese Flagship program has received nearly $3.8 million in grants from the U.S. government since the 2016-17 academic year. Established in 2006, the UO was the first university in the nation to receive a Chinese Flagship grant and the first to partner with a K-12 district.

Flagship funds high-level Chinese language instruction and immersive study abroad for students regardless of majors. It prepares a next generation of Chinese-English bilingual leaders in a variety of fields. A portion of the UO’s Flagship supports the Portland Public School district’s K-12 Chinese language immersion program.

The UO would have lost its Chinese Flagship grant had the Confucius Institute remained open. In the immediate term, $343,000 in support for UO students to study or intern in China has been withheld by federal officials until the institute closes. Once the closure occurs, UO will reapply for the funds.

UO officials had requested a waiver late last year after the new law went into effect. But the waiver was denied by the Department of Defense. In fact, all waivers requested by universities across the country that host both a Confucius Institute and a Chinese Flagship were denied.

The announcement about the UO closure was made Monday in an email to faculty members who are actively involved in research and teaching related to China.