University of Kentucky moves to close a Chinese cultural center, citing concerns over federal funding

Confucius Institute building (Kreeder13/WikiCommons)

The University of Kentucky will close its Confucius Institute, an on-campus Chinese language and cultural center, the school’s president said in an email to campus on Wednesday.

Citing the possibility of jeopardizing federal research funding from the Department of Defense, UK President Eli Capilouto announced the closure of the university’s Confucius Institute, which has operated on campus since 2010. Nine of the university’s colleges receive “significant DOD research and academic funding,” Capilouto wrote.

In the last five years, UK has received nearly $50 million in DOD funding, Capilouto wrote.

The specific federal law which may jeopardize that funding is the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021, UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said. The law is an annual military appropriations bill which became law earlier this year after Congress overturned a veto from former President Donald Trump.

According to the law, colleges and universities are barred from receiving DOD funding if they host a Confucius Institute, unless the school receives a waiver from the Secretary of Defense.

“We didn’t make this decision lightly. Our international partnerships — now and in the future — are critical to who we are as an institution with global reach and aspirations,” Capilouto wrote. “Yet, we cannot allow the crosscurrents of federal policy and geopolitics — important issues in their own right — to jeopardize our research and service efforts.”

In the coming months, the university will evaluate its partnerships and programs through the institute and will “work to implement a transition plan,” Capilouto wrote. Blanton said no decisions have been made on what to do with the institute’s on-campus space which sits in the same building as the Lucille Caudill Little Fine Arts Library.

For years, federal officials have raised concern over the institutes which are reportedly funded by the Chinese government. In 2019, a bipartisan Senate report called on colleges to close their Confucius Institutes, Politico reported. A growing number of schools — including Western Kentucky University — have closed or severed ties with their on-campus Confucius Institutes as tensions between the U.S. and China have continued.

“There is growing and strong federal regulatory concern regarding Confucius Institutes,” Capilouto wrote in his Tuesday email. “That is simply a facet of ongoing tensions between our two countries.”

The closure should not overshadow “the significant contributions” the institute has made in teaching Chinese language and cultural across Kentucky, Capilouto wrote.

“Key among these is the support it has provided for UK faculty and students and in making Chinese culture accessible to all at UK,” Capilouto wrote. “UKCI also has been the leader in providing Chinese language and culture learning in K-12 schools — schools in which such an opportunity had not existed — to enhance global awareness among Kentucky’s schoolchildren.”

Capilouto also acknowledged that closure comes at a time when “anti-Asian sentiment and, frankly, simply abhorrent behavior is on the rise. We must — and we do — stand by our colleagues and students from Asian countries. They are part of our community.”


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