The Mask They Wear

Kali Jerrard

CounterCurrent: Week of 6/19/23

Exciting news in higher education: two more Confucius Institutes (CIs) have bitten the dust in the past month. In May, Wesleyan College announced the closure of its CI, and just this week, Alfred University followed suit in the wake of the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s investigation of its CI program. These are two victories for American national security and academic freedom.

The National Association of Scholars (NAS) has written extensively about CIs since 2017 in an effort to expose the dark side of these CCP-funded programs. Our first report, Outsourced to China, made shockwaves in academia and revealed key details about CIs previously unknown to the public. As I’ve written before, CIs are little more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They’re seemingly innocent, but in reality “are an extension of the CCP that teaches a narrow and biased perspective of Chinese history—one that glazes over the atrocities and human rights abuses of China’s political history.” Thus, we’ve continued to expose CIs as what they truly are: CCP soft power in American higher education. 

NAS President Peter Wood and Senior Fellow for Foreign Affairs and Security Studies Ian Oxnevad expressed their particular concern over Alfred University’s CI in a June 1 op-ed for The Daily Signal. But why did a CI at a small (student body of 1,600), private university in rural upstate New York spark such concern? Namely, because of Alfred’s College of Ceramics, a national leader in materials science. Alfred is also a military research partner of the U.S. government, and the institution recently received $4 million for specialized ceramics research for hypersonic missiles. Ceramics are a surprisingly important area of research for the U.S. military—here’s why:

Back when the U.S. was designing its space shuttle program, ceramics vaulted into public view as an art concerned with more than making decorative clay pots. The heat shields that allow rocket ships to return to Earth without burning up are the product of high-tech ceramics research.

Given this, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Alfred University was graciously chosen as a recipient, free of charge, of a CI by the CCP Hanban office back in 2009. It’s also worth noting that Alfred “maintains a research contract with China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, which participates in classified People’s Liberation Army programs and research.” 

Though there is no hard evidence that Alfred University’s CI sent American taxpayer-funded research or military technology back to China, it should raise eyebrows that this CI maintained a firm hold on a relatively small university with specialized military interests for as long as it did.

The number of CIs has dwindled since 2017, with 110 institutes closed or in the process of closing, and only 11 remaining open. Bringing public awareness to CIs certainly helped to curtail CCP influence on college and university campuses for a time. Some legislation even followed as a result of exposing the CCP’s malfeasance. 

In an attempt to combat Chinese espionage on campus, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2021. The bill prohibits institutions with CIs from receiving Department of Defense (DoD) funding. Many schools have closed their CIs in the years since, fearing the loss of lucrative DoD contracts.

This is all fantastic news, but there is a snag. Earlier this year, the DoD announced the Confucius Institute Waiver Program (CIWP), “that will be responsible for approving or denying waiver applications from any U.S. college that hosts a Confucius Institute.” This program, in effect, allows CIs to continue operating within colleges and universities through a legal loophole—so long as the institution applies for this CI waiver, it can continue to receive DoD funding and maintain its CCP-funded program. This is disastrous for institutional integrity and academic freedom. As a countermeasure, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Jim Banks (IN-03) have introduced the No Federal Funding for CCP Spying and Persuasion in Education Settings (SPIES) Act. This bill “closes the CIWP loophole and prohibits any DoD funding for colleges that host Confucius Institutes. The legislation also prohibits DoD funding for international institutions of higher education that host Confucius Institutes.”

As we eagerly monitor the SPIES Act and the status of remaining CIs, we will continue our work exposing foreign influence in American higher education. Don’t be fooled by foreign influence’s mask of innocence. True intentions always come to light.  

Until next week.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by the NAS Staff. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Photo by Adobe Stock

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