Confucius Institute Closures

*The opinions expressed are not representative of any party other than the author.*

 

NMSU is about to lose an institution that most people know little about. The Confucius Institute  at NMSU is one of twenty that are shutting down after the conclusion of this spring semester. The Institute itself is sponsored by China’s government, and its mission statement is as follows: “To develop Chinese language teacher training courses for teachers (primary, secondary and tertiary sectors). To create a Centre of Excellence in innovative teaching methods for the learning and teaching of Chinese within the region.” With the funding from China, the Confucius Institute here on campus has had a long history of great events for Chinese New Year and other cultural celebrations. In recent years, one of the Institute’s events had attendance of over 800 people. 

 

Beyond events, the Confucius Institute also funds the catalogue of Chinese language and culture classes. New Mexico State is one of two universities in the state offering a Chinese language program and the program is closing down this May. Those students who have studied for several years are no longer going to be able to continue their education and the professors who have been serving the university for years are going to be cut as well. It is a beloved Institute and I, personally, am sad to see it go. As a foreign language major, one of the most important factors I took into consideration when choosing a university was the language selection offered. NMSU’s language selection is barebones, and the departments are sustained by the second language requirements that other departments have for students. 

 

After the Confucius Institute leaves, the languages offered for degree accreditation will be French, German, and Spanish. That is embarrassing, to say the least. As a university with more than sixteen thousand students, there must be a way to provide a more diverse education beyond three languages. It is virtually mandatory to be bilingual in today’s globalized workforce so why is this department dying? As a French double major, I have twice the opportunities that I had before I received my C1 certification. While China’s gross domestic product is projected to decline 0.5-1% in the coming year, the United States does enormous amounts of trade, cultural and otherwise with the country. It should be required that business majors take a foreign language especially one with critical need like Mandarin or Arabic. Neither will be offered at NMSU after this semester. 

 

Despite my vehement objection the shutdown of the Confucius Institute, it is not NMSU’s decision to make. The closure, while still under some secrecy is due to political tensions between the United States and China. Trump’s trade war is not just on imports and exports of goods and services between the two countries but also cultural exchange. There have been talks in Congress about the complete ban of Confucius Institutes around the country, and there is some conjecture that the faculty who are working for the Institute are “spies”, which has been laughed off by the professors who are in question. The whole situation is a political scheme that is doing nothing but directly influencing those who are interested in studying Mandarin to gain a competitive edge. While those who oppose the Institute claim that all it does is disseminate propaganda, the professors who work on campus deny these allegations. It is to make Chinese students feel welcome on campus and share culture with non Chinese students. It will be sad to see this sliver of diversity disappear as another consequence of buffoonery and ethnocentrism that is rampant in Washington D.C.