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University of Maryland cuts China-supported education program amid tensions between countries

The University of Maryland, College Park has ended a Chinese-government approved education program after Congress passed legislation that the university said could jeopardize future federal funding if the program were to continue.

In a letter sent Friday, university President Wallace Loh wrote that the state university would be ending its Confucius Institute program, which teaches Chinese language and culture through an agreement with the Chinese government.

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Maryland was the first to host such a program in 2004, which Loh wrote “has engaged in educational outreach by providing teachers of Chinese language and culture to K-12 schools in Maryland and Washington, D.C. as well as offering language classes to the general public.”

However, in 2018, Congress signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, which Loh said “includes language that prevents organizations that host a [Confucius Institute] from participating in certain federally funded programs.”

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“After evaluating the impact of this legislation on UMD, it became evident that we can no longer host [the Confucius Institute at Maryland],” Loh wrote.

The program has come under fire in recent months as tensions between China and the United States have grown in Washington.

NPR reported last year that Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, accused the programs of exposing universities to espionage and added language to the federal defense spending bill prohibiting universities from receiving funding for Chinese language programs through a Department of Defense program if the university had a Confucius Institute.

The university initially defended the program, saying it maintained academic independence from China after WAMU reported in August that China had “approval over the institute’s activities” at the university.

In his letter, Loh said the university will continue the program through the end of the academic year “in order to minimize the impact on the schools and communities that depend on the teachers provided by” the institute.

“We have also been working with [Confucius Institute] Headquarters and independent local organizations in the Maryland and Washington, D.C. area to potentially transition [the institute] and its activities so there would be continuity of educational offerings for K-12 schools after [the institute[ has separated from the University,” Loh wrote.

In finishing his letter, Loh spoke about the “rising geo-political, economic, and cultural tensions” between the United States and China and that the university will continue “to engage responsible with academic institutions in China, and elsewhere in the world.”

“And, pursuant to our land-grant mission of outreach, UMD will help create opportunities for K-12 students in the region to learn Chinese language and culture that, I believe, will be important for our nation’s effective global engagement in this century,” the letter concludes.

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