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Rubio Warns of Beijing’s Growing Influence, Urges Florida Schools to Terminate Confucius Institute Agreements

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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today urged Miami Dade College, the University of North Florida, the University of South Florida, the University of West Florida, and Cypress Bay High School to terminate their agreements with Chinese government-run programs known as Confucius Institutes. In a letter sent to each Florida school, along with its board of trustees, Rubio warned of China’s growing foreign influence operations in the United States.

The full text of the letters is below:

Dear X:

I write with regards to growing foreign influence operations of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the United States, particularly in our academic institutions. There is mounting concern about the Chinese government’s increasingly aggressive attempts to use “Confucius Institutes” and other means to influence foreign academic institutions and critical analysis of China’s past history and present policies. Additionally, the PRC continues its efforts to interfere in multilateral institutions, threaten and intimidate rights defenders and their families, and impose censorship mechanisms on foreign publishers and social media companies. For reasons outlined below, I respectfully urge you to consider terminating your Confucius Institute agreement.

Confucius Institutes are Chinese government-run programs that use the teaching of Chinese language and culture as a tool to expand the political influence of the PRC. In November 2011, Li Changchun, a former member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the highest body of the Chinese Communist Party, stated in a speech at the Beijing Headquarters of the Confucius Institute:
“The Confucius Institute is an appealing brand for extending our culture abroad. It has made an important contribution toward improving our soft power. The ‘Confucius’ brand has a natural attractiveness. Using the excuse of teaching Chinese language, everything looks reasonable and logical.”
There are presently more than 100 Confucius Institutes, in addition to Confucius Classrooms at the K-12 level in the United States, including several in the state of Florida. These institutes are overseen by a branch of the Chinese Ministry of Education, and are instructed to only teach versions of Chinese history, culture or current events that are explicitly approved by the Chinese Government and Communist Party. As the American Association of University Professors noted in a June 2014 report:

“Confucius Institutes function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom. Their academic activities are under the supervision of Hanban, a Chinese state agency which is chaired by a member of the Politburo and the vice-premier of the People’s Republic of China. Most agreements establishing Confucius Institutes feature nondisclosure clauses and unacceptable concessions to the political aims and practices of the government of China. Specifically, North American universities permit Confucius Institutes to advance a state agenda in the recruitment and control of academic staff, in the choice of curriculum, and in the restriction of debate.”[1]

Moreover, Confucius Institute instructors are almost always hired in China and trained by the Chinese Ministry of Education without any of the same employment and hiring protections that exist in the United States. Much more difficult to measure but no less insidious, however, is the self-censorship that often takes place in academic settings where there is a Chinese government presence in the form of a Confucius Institute. University of Chicago professor Marshall Sahlins has called Confucius Institutes “academic malware” because they represent and reflect decidedly illiberal views of education and academic freedom. We know from multiple reports that topics, such as the status of Tibet and Taiwan, the fourth of June 1989 at Tiananmen Square, Falun Gong, and universal human rights, are off-limits at these institutes.
In a 2017 report titled, “Outsourced to China: Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education,” the National Association of Scholars found that “to a large extent, universities have made improper concessions that jeopardize academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Sometimes these concessions are official and in writing; more often they operate as implicit policies.”[2] In turn, a growing number of universities have already cut ties with Confucius Institutes:

  • In 2014, the University of Chicago suspended negotiations to renew its agreement to host a Confucius Institute following a petition signed by more than 100 faculty members raising concerns.
  • Days later, Pennsylvania State University cut ties with its Confucius Institute, noting: “Several of our goals are not consistent with those of the Office of Chinese Languages Council International, known as the Hanban, which provides support to Confucius Institutes throughout the world.” [3]
  • Ontario’s McMaster University shuttered its Confucius Institute in 2013 after a former instructor alleged that the university was “giving legitimization to discrimination” because her contract with Hanban prohibited her participation in Falun Gong.[4]

Indeed, as Politico reported in “How China Infiltrated U.S. Classrooms” (January 16, 2018): “The American Association of University Professors, America’s leading professorial guild, also recommended in 2014 that ‘universities cease their involvement in Confucius Institutes unless the agreement between the university and Hanban is renegotiated,’ so that the universities have unilateral control over the curriculum and faculty, Confucius faculty have the same rights of free inquiry as their fellow teachers, and contracts between Hanban and the partner universities are made public.”
I remain deeply concerned by the proliferation of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms in the United States. Given China’s aggressive campaign to “infiltrate” American classrooms, stifle free inquiry, and subvert free expression both at home and abroad, I respectfully urge you to consider terminating your Confucius Institute agreement. Should you have any questions or concerns please do hesitate to contact my office for further discussion.
Thank you for your time and attention to this important matter.

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[1] https://www.aaup.org/report/confucius-institutes
[2] https://www.nas.org/projects/confucius_institutes
[3] https://www.wsj.com/articles/penn-state-latest-school-to-drop-chinas-confucius-institute-1412196655
[4] https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/mcmaster-closing-confucius-institute-over-hiring-issues/article8372894/

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Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness Coming March 2023

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WINTER PARK, Fla. (Florida National News) – Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness, inspired by the children’s TV host and icon, comes to Orlando in March 2023. This week-long series of events was announced today at the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation in Winter Park.

“Fred McFeely Rogers devoted his entire life to reminding us of some of the most important ideas of what it means to be human among humans: love, respect and kindness,” explained Buena Vista Events & Management President & CEO Rich Bradley. “Many of us find that nearly 20 years after Fred’s passing, it is important to focus on his teachings once again, perhaps now more than ever. This is a week to re-engage with his massive body of work with some folks, and to introduce his teachings to others.”

Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness begins March 20, 2023, the date which would have been Fred’s 95th birthday, and concludes on Saturday, March 26 with the Red Sweater Soiree, a community dinner to recognize ten ordinary members of the community who inspire and exemplify the affinity that Fred Rogers had for showing kindness to our “Neighbors”.

Mister Rogers Week of Kindness coming March 20-26, 2023. Photo Credit: Mike Brodsky (Florida National News)

Activities planned for the week will include early childhood education activities and faculty training, as well as events open to the public.

“The events will be offered free or at low cost,” continued Bradley. “This week-long celebration is not a series of fundraisers, but rather about once again remembering and sharing some of the great work that Fred Rogers created, not only in early childhood education, but in reminding us that we are all part of one big ‘neighborhood’. Fred taught us the importance of accepting our Neighbors just the way they are and engaging in kindness with our interactions. I can’t think of another period in my lifetime where we needed to reflect on those messages again more than today.”

“There are three ways to ultimate success,” Fred Rogers was once quoted as saying. “The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind. Imagine what our neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”

Many of the activities of Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness will be attended by members of the cast and crew of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, which ran from 1968 – 1975, and again from 1979 – 2001. David Newell, known as “Mr. McFeely,” the “Speedy Delivery” man, appeared at today’s media conference via video, and looks forward to visiting Central Florida next March.

David Newell, “Mr. McFeely.” Photo Credit: Mike Brodsky (Florida National News)

Mister Rogers’ Week of Kindness is supported by the McFeely-Rogers Foundation, the Fred Rogers Institute, and Fred Rogers Productions. Details regarding the specific activities and venues will be released over the next few weeks.

For more information on the events, visit https://www.BuenaVistaEvents.com or https://www.MisterRogersWeekofKindness.com.

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Orange County Government, Rollins College Announce 3-Year, $4M Partnership to Provide Nonprofit Training Support

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Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings (right) and Rollins College's Crummer Graduate School of Business partnered to announce the launch of the school's nonprofit assistance program. Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News.

ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – Orange County Government and the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College today announced a three-year, $4 million partnership to provide nonprofit training support through Crummer’s Edyth Bush Institute for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership, the region’s premier source for nonprofit education and management assistance.

Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News

Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News

Funded by the American Rescue Plan Act in Orange County, the program will equip local nonprofits with the tools necessary to succeed in the post-pandemic environment. Specifically targeting small, and diverse Orange County-based nonprofits, Empowering Good: A Nonprofit Capacity Building Project is designed to offer training in five key areas: impact measurement, innovation, financial management, fundraising, and risk management.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings speaks during the press conference announcing Crummer's new program launch. Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings speaks during the press conference announcing Crummer’s new program launch. Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News.

“Nonprofits play a central role in the wellbeing of our community here in Orange County. Despite increased demand for their services during the Covid-19 pandemic, many of our community’s nonprofit organizations were being adversely affected by the pandemic in potentially devastating ways, directly impacting essential services in Orange County,” said Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings. “Deploying American Rescue Plan funds in partnership with Crummer’s Edyth Bush Institute will help us provide the resources necessary to ensure the long-term success of our nonprofit community.”

The cohort-style program administered by the Edyth Bush Institute for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership, will support up to 36 Central Florida nonprofit organizations every six months over the next three years as well as offer organizational assessments and coaching for up to another 15 organizations for a total of 261 nonprofits, starting in September 2022. Training provided by the Edyth Bush Institute throughout each year-long program will include workshops, assessments, coaching/consulting services, and custom programming to address organization-specific challenges.

In assessing how to deploy its American Rescue Plan funding, Orange County Government sought to address needs in six key areas, with one of those areas being small business assistance. Alignment with the Crummer School’s mission to produce global, innovative, and responsible leaders who impact their organizations and communities, as well as the Edyth Bush Institute’s wide-reaching nonprofit network, provided an ideal partnership that would enable the County to bolster small businesses within the regional nonprofit community.

Crummer Graduate School of Business Dean Dr. Deborah Crown speaks during the press conference. Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News.

Crummer Graduate School of Business Dean Dr. Deborah Crown speaks during the press conference. Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News.

“This exciting partnership with the Orange County Government will reach beyond nonprofits to the many organizations and individuals who benefit from their programs and services,” said Dr. Deborah Crown, dean of the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College. “Our incredible staff at the Edyth Bush Institute embrace this opportunity to further guide our local nonprofit leaders to continue to spark innovation and create jobs for our economy.”

Demand for goods and services from nonprofit organizations soared during the pandemic. In April 2020, the Edyth Bush Institute conducted a survey to assess the state of the nonprofit community. The survey found 93.73% of the 287 participating nonprofits reported moderate to significant impact on programs, services or general operations. In addition, 194 nonprofit organizations reported an anticipated revenue decrease of $48 million to $54 million between February 2020 and June 2020.

Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News

Photo: Harry Castiblanco/Florida National News

“Nonprofits play a vital role in directly improving the lives of individuals. Their contributions to this community and our economy cannot be overlooked. Yet, the struggles with increasing demand for services and maintaining a robust workforce were real,” said Min Sun Kim, executive director of Crummer’s Edyth Bush Institute of Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership. “This program will allow us to address pandemic and post-pandemic challenges as well as to help leaders position their organizations for long-term success.”

For more information and to access the program application, visit empowering-good.org

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Florida County Hurt by Pandemic Offers Tuition to Graduates

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Valencia College Osceola Campus. Photo: Valencia College.

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. (AP) — After two years of a pandemic that battered the workforce of this tourism-dependent county in central Florida, leaders had a gift for departing high school graduates this month: free tuition at either the local community college or the county technical school.

Osceola County commissioners announced earlier this year that they would set aside $12 million in federal COVID-19 funding to pay the tuition of any 2022 high school graduate who wanted to go to Valencia College or the county technical school.

“I didn’t have anybody to pay for my college,” Madilyn Hilder, an Osceola High senior who lives with her grandmother, told the Orlando Sentinel. “Money was always the thing that was going to keep me from going to college.”

Because of the program, Osceola Prosper, Hilder said she will now start her studies in elementary education at Valencia College in August, with plans to later transfer to the University of Central Florida.

The goal of Osceola Prosper is to boost education levels past high school and raise the prospects for better-paying jobs for Osceola residents, said Brandon Arrington, chairman of the county commission.

“I think a lot of people think, ‘If I go to college, I’m going to have $100,000 worth of debt,’” Arrington said.

Osceola County is home to large numbers of tourism workers for Orlando area hotels, restaurants and theme parks. During the early months of pandemic-related business closures, the county had the highest unemployment rate in Florida, reaching 14.4% in 2020.

The county previously had offered $500 scholarships to encourage students to study at Valencia College. The new program will cover the $3,000 a year costs of studying full time at the community college.

Because the available funds are limited, the program is only for 2022 graduates.

Guidance counselors at Osceola County’s high schools said they have been having more conversations with students about continuing their education.

Those conversations usually start with, “Now you have this option, what are your thoughts?” said Kendyl Bass, the college and career specialist at Osceola High. “It has changed a lot of people’s minds.”

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