Letter to AAUP President: Let's Work Together to Address Confucius Institutes

Peter Wood

The National Association of Scholars and the American Association of University Professors have both found that Confucius Institutes endanger academic freedom. NAS President Peter Wood has sent this letter to AAUP President Rudy Fichtenbaum, suggesting that the AAUP and NAS can work as constructive partners in drawing attention to the problems with Confucius Institutes on American college campuses. 

April 11, 2018

Dr. Rudy Fichtenbaum
American Association of University Professors
1133 Nineteenth Street, NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20036

Dear President Fichtenbaum,

In the last 30 years, the National Association of Scholars and the AAUP have frequently sparred. But in the case of Chinese government-funded Confucius Institutes, I believe our organizations agree more than not. I write in the hope that we can work together to encourage colleges and universities to close Confucius Institutes in defense of academic freedom.

Both the AAUP and the NAS have criticized Confucius Institutes in print—the AAUP in 2014 in “On Partnerships with Foreign Governments: The Case of Confucius Institutes,” and NAS in 2017 with Outsourced to China: Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education.

Both documents center their critique on the way Confucius Institutes undermine academic freedom. The AAUP statement found that “Confucius Institutes function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom.” NAS concluded that “universities have made improper concessions that jeopardize academic freedom and institutional autonomy.”

Both the AAUP and NAS have called on colleges and universities to protect against the dangers Confucius Institutes pose to academic freedom. The AAUP urged colleges either to close Confucius Institutes or to renegotiate contracts to better protect academic freedom.

NAS called on all colleges and universities to close their Confucius Institutes, and in the meantime to adopt protective measures, several of which mirror the AAUP’s recommendations. At the time NAS’s report was released, reporters noticed the similarities in the ways NAS and the AAUP approached the issue. Inside Higher Ed reported that NAS’s “recommendations are to a large extent in step with that of the American Association of University Professors.”

Although NAS’s report focuses on academic freedom and censorship, in recent days, others have begun arguing that Confucius Institutes engage in more nefarious activity. FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the U.S. Senate that he is “watching warily” and in some cases taking “investigative steps” at Confucius Institutes that may engage in espionage. Two Texas Representatives recently sent letters to all Texas universities with Confucius Institutes, urging them to close the Institutes in the interest of national security.

NAS welcomes further investigation into whether Confucius Institutes jeopardize national security, but we have not made this charge, and our own research finds no evidence of espionage. Instead, we remain committed to protecting academic freedom from the threat of Chinese government interference.

I hope you will agree that the AAUP and NAS can be effective partners in the effort to persuade colleges and universities to better protect academic freedom and institutional integrity by closing Confucius Institutes. If you would like to discuss this further, please feel free to reach me at [email protected] or (917) 551-6770.


Peter Wood


Image Credit: Public Domain

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