Updated February 10, 2020
In 2009, the University at Buffalo (UB), in conjunction with its long-time partner in Beijing, Capital Normal University, submitted a successful application to the Office of Chinese Language Council International (aka Hanban), an agency of China’s Ministry of Education, to establish a Confucius Institute at UB. The purpose of the Confucius Institute is to provide teachers, funding, and other resources to develop Chinese language and culture programs in local schools and to support teaching and research about China at UB.
Since that time, the Confucius Institute at UB has established itself as one of the premier Confucius Institutes in North America, earning Confucius Institute of the Year honors at the 2016 Confucius Institute Global Conference due to its excellent program of Chinese language teaching, cultural performances and academic activity about China. Each year, more than 3,000 Western New York students from kindergarten through graduate school study Chinese language in programs taught by Confucius Institute teachers or supported with Confucius Institute funds. These students—many of whom would have no other opportunity to study Chinese—learn critical language skills while also exploring Chinese visual and performing arts, history, geography, philosophy and other significant aspects of Chinese culture.
The Confucius Institute helps develop Chinese language programs primarily by arranging for experienced language teachers from China to teach in local K-12 schools and at UB. In 2019-2020, seven Confucius Institute language teachers are assigned to local schools, and two visiting professors are teaching at UB in the Chinese Language Program and the Chinese Language Teacher Certification Program. Additionally, the Confucius Institute provides $10,000 annually to support Chinese language education at three designated Confucius Classrooms at City Honors School in Buffalo, the Lewiston-Porter Central School District, and Elmwood Franklin School.
Confucius Institute guest teachers are selected by the schools from a pool of candidates nominated by Hanban, which funds the teachers’ salaries and living expenses in Buffalo. UB Confucius Institute staff interviews all of the teachers and recommends the best candidates to specific schools. School administrators then review the teachers’ credentials and conduct interviews to ensure that the recommended candidates will be a good match for their school and its Chinese language program. Confucius Institute instructors at UB—most of whom come from Capital Normal University—are interviewed by their host departments according to standard departmental procedures for visiting faculty. The Chinese teachers and professors come to the United States for two or three years on J-1 visas issued by the U.S. Department of State.
All Confucius Institute teachers at UB and in local schools are afforded the same rights and privileges as their American colleagues, and all Confucius Institute activities involving UB courses, curricula, faculty and staff are subject to UB and SUNY academic and administrative policies. These protections are stated in UB’s written agreements with Hanban and Capital Normal University.
Beyond the language classroom, the Confucius Institute co-sponsors conferences, symposia, workshops and lectures at UB in a wide variety of disciplines, including history, philosophy, geography, economics, education, architecture, urban planning, medicine and public health. The Confucius Institute organizes cultural performances for International Education Week, Chinese New Year, and other Chinese holidays that entertain and educate thousands of people each year. The Institute also provides scholarships for students at UB and local colleges and universities to study in China, and organizes study tours for education administrators to interact with their colleagues in China, learn more about Chinese education, and explore partnerships. Academic and artistic merit are the primary factors guiding the Confucius Institute’s decision to fund a particular project. The UB Confucius Institute sets no other pre-conditions based on content or views expressed about China, and has absolutely no influence over curricular or hiring decisions of departments, schools or colleges within UB. As an organization focused on Chinese language and culture, the Confucius Institute has no involvement in scientific research or laboratory work of any kind.
The director of the UB Confucius Institute is a full-time, tenured faculty member appointed by the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Additional guidance and oversight are provided by a board of advisors made up of faculty and administrators from UB and Capital Normal University, which works with UB in support of the Confucius Institute mission. Funding for the Confucius Institute is provided equally by Hanban and UB. Hanban funds are administered by UB’s office of Sponsored Projects Services.
The UB Confucius Institute is one of more than 80 Confucius Institutes supporting Chinese language and culture programs at universities across the United States, including at member universities of the Association of American Universities (AAU) such as Columbia, Emory, the University of California-Los Angeles, Stanford, and Michigan State University, and on SUNY campuses at Stony Brook, Albany, Binghamton, SUNY College of Optometry, and Nassau Community College.
In June 2019 the UB Confucius Institute underwent a formal external review in keeping with the best practices for Confucius Institutes stipulated by the American Council on Education. The review was conducted by two leading experts in international education from Boston College and Michigan State University. The reviewers concluded that (1) the UB Confucius Institute provides serious and essential support to the study of Chinese language and culture at UB and in the community; and (2) the Confucius Institute has never attempted to limit academic freedom or freedom of expression or imposed limitations on the activities and initiatives undertaken by faculty, students or others at UB and in the Buffalo community. Based largely on the recommendation of the external reviewers, in November 2019 UB President Satish Tripathi approved and signed a renewal agreement between UB and Hanban to continue operation of the Confucius Institute at UB for another five years.
Whether it is seen as a country of enormous business opportunity, an economic and strategic competitor, a fascinating country with deep cultural and philosophical traditions that can inform and enrich our lives, or all of these things at once, it is imperative that Americans know more about China and learn to communicate effectively with Chinese people. To these ends, the University at Buffalo is proud to support the work of its Confucius Institute as a way to enhance education about Chinese language and culture at the university, provide a critical service to schools that otherwise would not have funding to develop Chinese language programs, and enrich the cultural and intellectual life of the university and of the Western New York community.