MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (OSBORNE) -- FBI Director Christopher Wray says he’s concerned about a now common type of partnership between the Chinese government and American universities, partnerships that can be found on three Tennessee campuses.
The Chinese currently sponsor Confucius Institutes at about 100 colleges in the United States. UT Knoxville, the University of Memphis and Middle Tennessee State all host Institutes on their campuses.
On its website, the Institute says its purpose is to “promote Chinese language and culture” worldwide. But Florida Senator Mark Rubio believes they have a darker purpose. He warns the People’s Republic of China is using them to “influence foreign academic institutions.”
Senator Rubio made his concerns clear this past week during Congressional hearings.
“It is my view that they are complicit in these efforts to covertly influence public opinion and teach half-truths designed to present Chinese history, government or official policy in a most favorable light.”
Director Wray responded that the FBI is also concerned and has been watching the Institutes for some time.
“But it is something that we’re watching warily and in certain instances have developed appropriate investigative steps.”
Supporters say those concerns are overblown. MTSU President Sidney McPhee has developed a number of ties with Chinese institutions in recent years, including the Confucius Institute.
McPhee told the Tennessean last year that the Institute has no control over academic programs on his campus. He asserts that the partnership provides MTSU students with opportunities to learn about Chinese language and culture at little or no cost to the university.