MTSU’s Confucius program is building educational relationships to internationalize the university at a minimal cost locally and without giving up control over academics, according to officials.
“The Confucius Institute at MTSU does not conduct or oversee any for-credit academic courses or programs at our university,” MTSU spokesman Jimmy Hart told The Post recently.
The American Association of University Professors has urged universities to cut ties with Confucius Institutes unless they have agreements to guarantee academic freedom.
An association report said universities “have sacrificed the integrity of the university and its academic staff” by letting the Chinese government oversee curriculum and staff at institutes on more than 100 North American campuses, according to an Associated Press article.
The group’s committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure contends that third-party control “is inconsistent with principles of academic freedom, shared governance and the institutional autonomy of colleges and universities,” according to the article.
Interference by the Chinese government isn’t a problem here, according to Hart, because all matters dealing with content and oversight of Chinese language and studies lie within the College of Liberal Arts – outside the responsibility of the Confucius Institute – and are managed by the faculty, dean and provost.
At faculty request, the Confucius Institute has made course content available, but its main mission is to offer cultural and educational outreach programs for MTSU and the community, in addition to providing Chinese language programs for K-12 students and local residents.
Forged in 2009 through a partnership with Hangzhou Normal University, the institute is funded with $1 million in grants by Chinese partners with the recent five-year program renewal. Annual operating expenses depend on activities approved by the Confucius Institute’s headquarters.
MTSU provides space in Peck Hall for the institute and support for its activities, while Chinese universities take on the cost of sending faculty here to teach non-credit Chinese language courses, according to the university.
With Director Guanping Zheng and Associate Director Yiping Cui at the helm, the institute has taught language and culture classes to more than 2,000 students in the region, in addition to offering training through satellite TV and the Internet.
In five years, MTSU has sent 21 students to study at Hangzhou Normal on full scholarships paid for through the institute. Conversely, MTSU has seen its Chinese student undergraduate enrollment increase to 34 in fall 2013 from 15 in fall 2011, netting $4.4 million tuition revenue and some $3 million in gross tuition, fees and other revenue through its College of Graduate Studies, according to MTSU.
All told, MTSU’s international student enrollment doubled – from 396 to 789 – in five years, and it has 335 students studying abroad this summer. MTSU holds more than 40 exchange programs with institutions worldwide, with 16 memorandums of understanding with Chinese partners.
MTSU is one of Tennessee’s largest universities. Its total fall 2012 enrollment was 25,394, but that number dipped to 23,881 in fall 2013.
MTSU spent a total of $23,938 on three university trips to China in May 2013, December 2013 and May 2014. Most of the cost was paid for by Chinese hosts or through the Confucius Institute here, according to the university.
President Sidney McPhee is a senior advisor to the Hanban Confucius Institute headquarters, and it picked up some expenses, along with host universities, except for the costs of visas, airport parking, ticket change fees and incidentals.
Travel for some university employees comes from operating budgets when required, but some are funded by Chinese hosts.
The university paid $8,350 in May 2013 for MTSU professor Elliot Altman, director of the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research, and MTSU assistant professor Iris Gao, to go with a delegation as part of their research on traditional Chinese medicines.
In addition to McPhee, Marketing and Communications Vice President Andrew Oppmann, Confucius Institute Director Zheng and professor Peter Cunningham have taken trips with the MTSU delegation. Also traveling but paying their own way were MTSU alumnus Paul Martin and state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro.
In a May 2014 trip, MTSU reached five faculty and student exchange agreements with Chinese institutions, including renewal of the Confucius Institute partnership with Hangzhou.
In other agreements:
• Juniors from Communication University of China in Beijing will be allowed to complete bachelor’s degrees at MTSU and earn a master’s in one extra year.
• The university inked a memorandum of understanding for student exchanges and joint research projects with Shanghai Second Polytechnic University, which specializes in engineering and motor vehicle manufacturing.
• MTSU set student and faculty exchanges with Xiangnan University, which focuses on teacher training and medical sciences.
• MTSU signed an exchange pact with Shaanzi Normal University, a comprehensive institution specializing in sciences and arts.
In a December 2013 visit, an MTSU delegation attended the eighth Global Confucius Institute Conference in Beijing along with some 2,200 people from 110 nations. While there, McPhee signed an academic exchange with North China University of Technology and also was named Person of the Year by the global organization of Confucius Institutes for his efforts to strengthen academic and cultural ties between China and the United States.
During the May 2013 trip, MTSU established the first U.S. university ties with a Chinese institute in the design center for household appliances and technology.
In addition, it established an exchange with Shanghai Jiao Tong University, which is considered “China’s MIT” for science, engineering and biomedical programs, and expanded ties with Hangzhou. MTSU also opened a student recruitment office at Guangxi University in southern China, and the delegation visited the Guangxi Botanical Garden of Medicinal Plants, which is the largest medicinal herb garden in the world with more than 7,400 plants. While there, the group also christened an MTSU-branded Joint Research Center.