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Valparaiso University in Indiana closing Chinese-run Confucius Institute

Confucius Institute building (Kreeder13/WikiCommons)
September 05, 2021

The Confucius Institute at Valparaiso University is closing in a matter of months, but will hold musical performances until the end.

A letter addressed to university alumni and friends from President José Padilla on Monday announced the closure of the institute effective March 1.

“For some time now, I have given considerable thought on whether we should continue to operate CIVU,” Padilla said. “A number of factors helped me reach the conclusion to close.”

Members of Congress reached out to the university this year and last questioning the presence of CIVU, Padilla wrote. A federal law prohibits the Defense Department from funding research at any university with a Confucius Institute, and the letter said funding from the Department of Education may also be at risk. Losing funding from the DOE would be “devastating to our financial position,” the letter said.

“This is not a risk we can take,” Padilla wrote.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Todd Rokita announced an investigation into VU for potentially operating under the influence of the Chinese government and serving as a vehicle for communist propaganda in the Hoosier State. But the university said the closure is not related to the attorney general’s investigation. The university disputes Rokita’s allegations, and the letter said it will respond appropriately to his request for documents and information.

The CIVU building was vandalized after that investigation was announced, according to Padilla.

“We will be ever vigilant to protect our (Asian Pacific Islander) community from verbal, physical and online attacks,” the letter said. “We cannot allow to occur again what happened to Asian-Americans as a result of accusations made during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Padilla’s letter said CIVU has aimed to help Northwest Indiana citizens learn about Chinese music since it opened in 2008. The institute is supported by the Confucius Institute Headquarters in Beijing. The local institute is co-run by Valparaiso University and Zhejiang University of Technology.

Valparaiso’s contract with Zhejiang stipulates a six-month notice for the closure. On Friday, Provost Eric Johnson and Padilla spoke with leadership at Zhejiang University about the decision, and they were “understanding and accepting,” the letter said.

The financial risk of potentially losing DOE funding is presumably what led more than 80 other universities across the country to close their Confucius Institutes, the letter said. Only 38 institutions remain in the U.S., but eight are reportedly scheduled to close in the near future. VU’s is the only remaining one in Indiana.

The wave of closures and other factors are what made Padilla decide to close CIVU. The letter said Rokita’s investigation is not the reason for the closure. The purpose of that investigation, it said, is to determine if Valpo did not “disclose its financial ties with the foreign source of CIVU funding.”

The letter said Valpo has followed the law by regularly reporting China’s funding of the CIVU to DOE. Those reports can be found online at studentaid.gov/sites/default/files/ForeignGifts.xls.

Despite the closure, the letter said, the university “will continue to bring the world to our campus.”

“We will continue to expose the world to the power of God’s love and American democracy that is found on our campus,” it said. “We can’t think of no better mission as a Christian, comprehensive university located in the United States.”

Valpo prides itself in having 188 international students from 28 different countries, the letter said. Although CIVU is closing, there are plans to establish a new program to continue the cultural exchange of music and language with China and other countries. International studies, music and language faculty will help create the program, which will operate with funding or staff from China.

CIVU will keep its remaining schedule of performance until it closes. Padilla said he hopes people join him in attending as many as possible. He shared a link to the CIVU May 2021 “Friendship Lasts Forever” cloud concert, in which American and Chinese musicians played through the pandemic.

“I can’t think of a better way to witness the power and peace from international musicians in communion with each other,” he said. “That was all that Valpo sought to do through CIVU and all that it will continue to do through its new music exchange program.”

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