Universities “take great pride in their reputation for academic freedom and freedom of speech,” University of Miami professor of political science June Teufel Dreyer said.
“But like everyone else — I imagine members of Congress do this, too — they have a certain amount of integrity, but if it comes to doing just a little bit of a favor for a wealthy contributor, they are not above it,” she said.
“Computers always need upgrades, students always need scholarships and you have to repair roofs,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any university, even extremely well-endowed ones, that can’t think of a use for a couple of hundred million dollars.”
China has set up more than 300 Confucius Institutes around the world, including more than 70 in the US, to teach students its language and culture.
While an easy source of funding, several universities have seen protests by faculty who believe the institutes will muzzle discussion on sensitive topics for China, such as Tibet.
Lionel Jensen of the University of Notre Dame, who has studied Confucius Institutes, said that the close ties to China’s government set the institutes apart from institutes run by Britain, France and Germany.
“I don’t see any meaningful evidence that academic freedom has been challenged, but it seems ominous to a lot of people that we have an arrangement where these institutes have a virtually autonomous arrangement within the framework of a university,” he said.