At the end of July, vice provost for Global Affairs Ariel Armony said in a statement that Pitt’s Office of International Services received new guidance from the US Department of State’s Office of Private Sector Exchange Program Administration (OPA) regarding the visa status of 15 incoming scholars from China.
“Unfortunately, the new guidance from OPA impacts the University’s ability to host CI-Pitt scholars”
The Chinese scholars were scheduled to take part in a language internship program at Pitt’s CI that offers Chinese language instruction to students in K-12 schools and colleges in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio.
“Unfortunately, the new guidance from OPA impacts the University’s ability to host CI-Pitt scholars and precludes us from running the internship program in the 2019-2020 academic year,” Armory said in the statement.
Belkys Torres, executive director of global engagement at Pitt’s University Center for International Studies, told The PIE that the language internship program is the only part of Pitt’s CI that has been suspended.
The internship brings students who are completing programs in teaching Chinese as a foreign language at partner institutions in China to Pitt to teach in colleges and K-12 schools for an academic year.
The CI offered Chinese language instruction to 4,000 students per year.
“As part of a routine audit, the Department of State’s OPA reviewed Pitt’s compliance with their J-1 visa regulations as they apply to the student interns in the Confucius Institute. Following their review, they advised that Pitt needed to implement program modifications before these students arrived,” Torres said.
“Unfortunately, that guidance came a few days before the students were set to get on a plane and come to the US.
“Because their safety and their security is our first and utmost concern, we had to make the unfortunate decision to suspend the language teacher internship program this year.”
Torres said that Pitt’s CI will continue to offer its cultural and academic programming such as lectures, research symposia, conferences, and film screenings. Pitt also hosts a centre that’s designated as a national resource centre in East Asian Studies by the US Department of Education.
Confucius Institutes are non-profit educational bodies jointly funded by the Chinese Ministry of Education and host institutions in countries around the world. There are currently around 90 CIs in the United States after more than 15 closures in the last few years.
US institutions such as The University of Oregon, San Francisco State University, and Western Kentucky University have recently shuttered their CIs after having to decide between CIs and US Department of Defense funding for National Security Education Chinese Flagship program.
CIs have also faced increased scrutiny amid concerns about academic freedom, censorship, and propaganda. The first CI in the US was founded in 2004 at the University of Maryland.
Miami Dade College in Florida has also recently announced that it will end its Mandarin-language program housed at its Confucius Institute at the end of the semester due to “dwindling enrollment,” the Miami Herald reported.
“We have been keeping a watchful eye on CI closures… and it is not a decision that we are ready to make at this time”
Torres stressed that Pitt is not currently considering closing down its CI.
“We have been keeping a watchful eye on CI closures around the country and it is not a decision that we are ready to make at this time.
“We value very much our programs with our partners in China and the 12-year relationship with the Confucius Institute and the impact that it’s had,” she said.