As Confucius Institutes — nonprofit branches that fund Chinese language and culture learning — spread to universities around the world, Penn is reconsidering its 2009 decision to reject them.

Although no formal proposal has been drafted, the Center for East Asian Studies is looking for more sources of funding and is discussing what form of a CI, if any, is suitable for Penn, according to CEAS director Jacques DeLisle.

CIs, which are affiliated with the Chinese government’s Ministry of Education, have garnered controversy since they began in 2004 over issues of academic freedom and the Chinese government’s involvement. Academic programs affiliated with CIs at Stanford University — which received $4 million from this fund — may not include discussion on issues such as Tibet.

In 2007, Penn was given the option of building a CI under the condition that it support teaching high school students and community members through the Graduate School of Education. This proposal, however, was rejected by Penn’s CEAS in 2009.

“It didn’t match with our mission very well,” associate director of CEAS Frank Chance said. In addition, the proposed partner Chinese university was not “of Penn’s caliber,” Chance said.

However, decreased national funding has led the Center to reconsider. Due to a cut in funding from the government’s budget compromise in August, the Center lost 47 percent of its grant, according to Chance.

“In a time of serious resource constraints, additional resources, both financial and human, are especially valued,” DeLisle wrote in an email.

Penn is considering a CI that would partner with Tsinghua University, a top Chinese university that Penn has had a long relationship with, Chance said.

CIs are managed by the Ministry of Education’s Office of Chinese Language Council International, also known as Hanban.

Hanban has opened 350 CI’s worldwide and about 75 in the U.S., including at Stanford and Columbia universities and the University of Chicago.

Although the terms of each CI are negotiated between Hanban and the university, the roles of a CI typically include funding the development of Chinese language courses and research in the field. Each university is also paired with a partner Chinese university.

There are significant factors to consider when deciding whether to pursue a CI, including the experiences of peer schools, DeLisle explained.

Stanford’s CI had its official signing ceremony this month but has been operating since 2008. It has allowed the university to start an endowed chaired professorship and two graduate student fellowships, in addition to conferences, speakers and workshops, Chinese Literature professor at Stanford Ban Wang said.

“The CI gives us an opportunity to forge links between the U.S. and China and to help each side understand each other better,” he said. “On the one hand, the CI creates controversy, but on the other hand, it also downplays potential controversy between the two countries.”

Wang said Penn has had “100-percent control” over their budget.

“We’re autonomous. There’s no one here telling us what to do.”

Based on the current success of Stanford’s CI, Wang would recommend that other universities build CIs on campus, adding that terms are “always negotiable.”

“They may interfere, but you can also negotiate and it’s not black and white,” he said.

“If we did this kind of program, there would have to be very careful and shrewd negotiations on our side,” Chance said. “If it’s properly arranged, it could be a good thing, but caution is very much advised.”

However, if the idea of a CI is met with passionate opposition, “then it’s probably not a good idea to force anything on our faculty,” he added.

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