UI closed Confucius Institute over funds

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UI closed Confucius Institute over funds

A Confucius Institute at the University of Illinois closed last September, apparently a casualty of budget cuts rather than politics.

Funded mostly by $200,000 from the Chinese government, its primary purpose was to support research on computer-based tools for language proficiency tests, specifically a Chinese-language test known as HSK. Former institute director Hua-hua Chang, professor of psychology and educational psychology at the UI, is a leading scholar in computerized testing and worked with Chinese officials to secure funding.

It was one of more than 400 Confucius Institutes launched by the Chinese government around the world, including about 100 at U.S. universities, to promote Chinese cultural programs, language classes and other projects.

Some U.S. schools cut ties with the program after faculty complained that Confucius Institute headquarters in China exerted too much control over budgets and academic programs, such as instructing language teachers to avoid mentioning the 1989 protests at Tiananmen Square.

Recently, some members of Congress pressured schools in Florida and Texas to do the same, calling the institutes a "threat to our nation's security by serving as a platform for China's intelligence collection and political agenda."

The UI's agreement had avoided some of those pitfalls, with specific safeguards to ensure academic freedom was respected.

Chang, who has accepted a new position at Purdue, said the UI decided not to renew the five-year contract last May, and the institute closed in September. He didn't think the closure was related to recent efforts in Congress but rather belt-tightening in the office of the vice chancellor for research, as the contract provided no overhead for the university as other grants do.

"There are a lot of pressures on our resources, and we never were able to fund this," said campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler.

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