MTSU says it's 'winding down' last Confucius Institute in Tennessee

Jul 2, 2020

Credit MTSU

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Mike Osborne)  --  Middle Tennessee State University says it’s 'winding down' its relationship with the Confucius Institute.

Institutes on the campuses of the University of Tennessee and the University of Memphis have already closed.

Confucius Institutes can be found on college campuses worldwide. The institutes are sponsored by the Chinese government. Their stated purpose is to promote Chinese language and culture.

Critics say the institutes are a propaganda tool of the communist government in Beijing. In 2019, FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress the agency was concerned about the institutes and has been watching their activities for some time.

The institutes have recently been the focus of scathing social media posts by Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn. In addition, Blackburn earlier this year filed what she's calling the "Transparency for Confucius Institutes Act." The Act would place new restrictions on existing institutes and subject them to oversight by the U.S. Department of Education.

In the past, university president Dr. Sidney A. McPhee has defended MTSU’s involvement with the institute, saying it helps “increase enrollment and academic opportunities.” He has also described the institute as a resource for Tennessee farmers and industry.

MTSU will continue to have strong ties to China once the institute closes. The university currently lists active relationships with 11 Chinese universities and says it has a dozen visiting Chinese scholars on campus.