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Senate unanimously passes Sen. Kennedy’s CONFUCIUS Act to protect free speech at U.S. colleges

Published: Mar. 4, 2021 at 2:35 PM CST
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WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Senate has unanimously passed the Concerns Over Nations Funding University Campus Institutes in the United States (CONFUCIUS) Act. Sen. John Kennedy introduced the legislation to address concerns about Confucius Institutes’ suppressing free speech on American college campuses.

“Confucius Institutes are under the control of the Chinese Communist Party in all but name. They are propaganda centers that threaten academic liberty and free speech without shame, and too many American schools are falling victim to the political con every day. This bill would give colleges and universities full control over their resident Confucius Institutes and restore freedom of thought on their campuses. The Senate passed the CONFUCIUS Act unanimously just months ago, and it is good news for students and educators that my colleagues did the same again today. I hope the House joins us in sending the CONFUCIUS Act to the president’s desk.”

Sen. John Kennedy

The CONFUCIUS Act reduces the Chinese Communist Party’s influence on U.S. colleges and universities by granting full managerial authority over Confucius Institutes to the universities that host them. Specifically, the CONFUCIUS Act provides that Confucius Institutes must:

  • Protect academic freedom on the campus where the Confucius Institute is located,
  • Prohibit the application of any foreign law on any campus of the institution, and
  • Grant full control over what a Confucius Institute teaches, the activities it carries out, the research grants it gives and the individuals it employs to the college or university on which it is located.

This bill would prohibit federal government funding to colleges and universities that host Confucius Institutes and are not in compliance with the above provisions. The funding prohibition would only apply to funding directed to the college or university and would not include funding disbursed to students, such as Pell Grants.

Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) have cosponsored the legislation.

The Senate twice passed the legislation unanimously in the 116th Congress.

Background:

  • According to the nonpartisan National Association of Scholars, there are at least 55 Confucius Institutes on U.S. soil, 48 of which are on university or college campuses.
  • In May 2020, the College Republican National Committee and the College Democrats of America wrote a joint letter calling for the “immediate and permanent closure of all Confucius Institutes in the United States” due to their “concerns over the present state of academic freedom” and “the continued exploitation of liberal, democratic academic institutions by authoritarians.”
  • These institutes can threaten universities by withholding funding in order to achieve their objectives, such as regulating speech the Chinese government opposes. Universities forced to choose between losing funding or upholding free speech are often tempted to yield to an institution funded by a foreign government over the interests of free speech. This allows foreign governments like China’s Communist Party to exert influence over American schools (such as prohibiting the Dalai Lama from speaking on campus) and even apply Chinese Communist laws on U.S. soil.

The bill text is available here.

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