The University of Southern Maine is closing a campus institute that receives funding from the Chinese government, a university spokesperson said Monday.
USM will close its Confucius Institute, which provides Mandarin Chinese language classes and other cultural programs on campus, on June 10, public affairs director Marc Glass said. The university is closing the institute because it wasn’t reaching enough students, he said.
The closing comes amid increased scrutiny of the institutes, which operate at about 50 colleges nationwide. Tufts University announced it was closing its Confucius Institute last month after months of protests from opponents of the Chinese government, including the Tibetan Association of Boston. The University of Kentucky also announced it was closing its institute last month.
USM will continue to offer Chinese language courses and plans to keep a connection with the Dongbei University of Finance and Economics in Dalian, China, through a direct partnership, said Dan Demeritt, spokesperson for the University of Maine System. USM had partnered with Dongbei to establish the institute.
USM’s Confucius Institute has existed since 2013, when the university with campuses in Gorham and Portland became the first in the state to establish such an institute on campus.
Each Confucius Institute receives funding from the Center for Language Education and Cooperation, formerly known as the Hanban, a Beijing-based nonprofit under the Chinese Ministry of Education. The institutes operate all over the world and primarily connect schools with Chinese counterparts.
While universities have long seen the institutes as an inexpensive way to bring classes teaching the increasingly important Mandarin Chinese to campus, others have worried that the institutes are an attempt to increase support for the Chinese government. In 2011, Li Changchun, then a high-ranking propaganda chief for the Chinese government, described the institutes as an important part of “expanding our culture abroad.”
Opposition to the centers has also come on a national stage. A bill that could halt certain federal funding to colleges with Confucius institutes passed the U.S. Senate last month. The bill, which six GOP senators co-sponsored, has not yet come before the U.S. House.
A representative of the Confucius Institute U.S. Center did not respond to a request for comment.