McMaster to close Confucius Institute this summer
McMaster University will not renew its agreement to host a Confucius Institute when its current contract expires on July 31.
A statement released by the University suggests it wants to distance itself from hiring practices by its partners at the Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU):
“Concerns were raised that the hiring decisions in China did not reflect the normal hiring practices of the University. Numerous discussions were held with BLCU officials to consider possible solutions but a satisfactory resolution could not be found.”
The hiring discrepancy is related to a human rights complaint filed in 2012 by a former professor teaching in McMaster’s Confucius Institute.
Sonia Zhao, a professor dispatched to McMaster by the BLCU, quit her job and applied for refugee status in Canada. Zhao claims she was discriminated against because her contract stipulated she was not allowed to practice Falun Gong, a belief and practice that is illegal in China.
Zhao filed a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in May 2012. Her legal counsel will meet with McMaster lawyers on Thursday as part of the mediation stage.
In the complaint, she said that McMaster University bears some responsibility because it “was giving legitimization to discrimination” by allowing the employment contract to be used.
Joel Chipkar, a spokesperson for the Falun Gong Association of Canada, said a letter was sent on behalf of the Association to the University in October 2011. The letter, obtained by The Silhouette, asks the University to intervene by "demanding" that the Institute "retract its discriminatory policy against Falun Gong."
The Association has been following Zhao's case and is working with Zhao's legal counsel.
Chipkar said the Association is “encouraged that McMaster has taken a stand against human rights violations in Canada."
“It is still just a statement,” said Chipkar. “We still have a lot to discuss.”
Confucius Institutes have a presence around the world as a means of promoting learning about Chinese language and culture. The headquarters for the institutes is Hanban, part of the Chinese Ministry of Education. In Canada, there are nine Confucius Institutes.
McMaster's Confucius Institute offers language courses in Mandarin and two "Introduction to Chinese Civilization and Culture" courses.
The director of McMaster's Institute has declined comment on the situation.
According to its statement, the University is “looking at options to gauge ongoing community interest in Chinese language courses at the postsecondary level.”