For Immediate Release
Samphel Bayul, UMass Boston graduate (617) 899-4571
Urgyen Badheytsang, Students for a Free Tibet (413) 310-8160
Lhadon Tethong, Director, Tibet Action Institute (917) 418-4181
Tibetans, Taiwanese & Human Rights Advocates Protest Outside Institute’s Chinese New Year Event
Boston — Members of the Tibetan and Taiwanese communities, along with local human rights advocates are calling on UMass Boston Chancellor Barry Mills, and UMass President Marty Meehan, not to renew the university’s Confucius Institute contract which expires on April 8, 2018. The coalition held a protest at UMass Boston today outside the Confucius Institute’s Chinese New Year event. The contract, signed with the Chinese government agency that runs Confucius Institutes, has not been viewed publicly until today. It includes terms whereby UMass Boston agrees to give China final say over academic matters as well as follow “the laws and regulations” of China.
“If the Chinese government provides the textbooks and teachers, and has the ultimate decision-making authority in terms of the quality of educational instruction at Confucius Institutes, then academic freedom at UMass Boston’s Confucius Institute is fundamentally compromised,” said Samphel Bayul, a graduate of UMass Boston.
“It is outrageous that UMass Boston would agree to follow the laws and regulations of authoritarian China where there is no freedom of speech, assembly or religion,” said Lhadon Tethong, Director of Tibet Action Institute. “By agreeing to such terms, is UMass saying it is willing to restrain or violate the rights of Americans and others studying or working at UMass Boston?”
Activists also expressed serious concerns over FBI director Christopher Wray’s February 13th testimony before the Senate Foreign Intelligence Committee, where he indicated that Chinese intelligence operatives are active within American universities, and that Confucius Institutes are an area of concern for the agency, and in some cases even under investigation.
“In today’s political climate, in light of Russian meddling in the U.S. election, would it be okay to sign an agreement like this with the Russian government?” questioned Linda Mancini of the Lam Rim Buddhist Center. “Would we allow the Kremlin to design and operate a program for American students to study Russian language and culture on an American campus?”
Confucius Institutes have long been controversial because they are controlled and operated by the Chinese government, and are a central part of Beijing’s soft power push around the world. Though marketed as a benign language and culture program, critics claim Confucius Institutes use their foothold in prestigious academic institutions to influence and steer academic discourse, and ultimately aim to distort information and shape public opinion on key political and human rights issues such as Tibet, Taiwan, and the Tiananmen Square massacre.
In a letter to UMass Boston Chancellor Barry Mills dated December 22, 2017, critics of the Confucius Institute raised concerns over the presence of a Chinese government-backed program operating on campus contributing to the silencing of important political and human rights issues, whether through direct intervention, or pre-emptive self-censorship. The signers of the letter, including UMass Boston students, a professor, UMass alumni and human rights advocates from the Tibetan, Taiwanese and Chinese communities, say the university has not responded to their concerns and request for a meeting. Article 14 of the Confucius Institute contract stipulates that it must be kept confidential. It was obtained by the activists through a public records request.