It's the risk of losing federal funding — not a recent investigation launched by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita — that led Valparaiso University to announce Monday that it will close the Confucius Institute housed on its campus for more than a decade.
In a statement released Monday, University President José Padilla said the Chinese government-backed program designed to serve as a cultural and ideological exchange will end next March in response to rising pressure at the federal level and new funding restrictions being placed on institutions housing a Confucius Institute. He continued to defend his school's involvement with the program, saying he "strongly disputes the allegations" made by the attorney general.
Rokita announced earlier month that his office was launching a civil investigation into Valpo and its Confucius Institute over fears the relationship between the two was promoting communist propaganda in Indiana. The attorney general sent civil investigatory demands to the university that probe whether there have been violations of the federal Higher Education Act of 1965 or Indiana’s Deceptive Consumer Sales Act. The office said it has sufficient evidence to launch a civil investigation, but declined to describe that evidence.
Valpo has continued to deny any wrongdoing. In his letter posted to the center's webpage, Padilla said he has been considering a closure of the institute "for some time now." He said members of Congress have reached out to the university, questioning the program and one federal law already prohibits the Defense Department from funding research at any university with a Confucius Institute. New legislation could jeopardize some Department of Education funding also, he said.
"A potential cut-off of DOE funding would be devastating to our financial position," he said. "This is not a risk we can take."
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Padilla said dozens of other colleges and universities have closed or are planning to close their own Confucius Institutes for the same reasons. Valpo's is the last in Indiana.
"This wave of closures and the other factors above are the reasons for my closing CIVU," Padilla said, "not the Indiana Attorney General’s (AG) investigation into CIVU."
He said Valpo has complied with all reporting requirements around the funding it receives from China.
Padilla also criticized the investigation for potentially spurring backlash against members of the Asian-Pacific Islander community and said the building that housed the center has been subject to vandalism since the AGs office announced its investigation.
"We cannot allow to occur again what happened to Asian-Americans," he said, "as a result of accusations made during the COVID-19 crisis."
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Rokita has recently come under fire for referring to COVID-19 as the "China virus."
The Confucius Institute at Valpo will continue to operate for the next six months, the amount of notice required in its contract with the partner university Zhejiang University of Technology. Planned musical performances will still be held.
Padilla said the university will create a new program "to continue the cultural exchange of music and language with China and other countries" and will ask faculty members to help build it to operate without funding or staff from China.
"We will continue," he said, "to bring the world to our campus."