Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita is investigating the Chinese indoctrination of students on the state’s college campuses and has launched a probe of Valparaiso University’s association with the Beijing-backed Confucius Institutes.
Policymakers nationwide have sounded alarms that the Chinese Communist Party is exerting influence in the U.S. through Confucius Institutes. The institutes are marketed as academic enterprises to export Chinese culture and language to students around the world. But as Washington debates whether to impose greater restrictions on federal funding for schools that keep such institutes, Mr. Rokita moved forward with his investigation into China’s hold on students at Indiana schools.
“The Chinese Communist Party operates in the state of Indiana via Valparaiso University,” Mr. Rokita said in an interview. “Now the other institutions in the state, as we can tell from filings with the federal Department of Education, have gotten rid of their Confucius Institutes. Maybe they call those operations something else now, and maybe they evade public reporting, and maybe we’ll find that out in later chapters.”
Valparaiso University is a private school in northwestern Indiana that had fewer than 3,000 students during the spring semester, according to its website. Valpo, as the school is nicknamed, collected more than $1.1 million from the Chinese government in 2010 and 2019, Mr. Rokita’s office said.
Mr. Rokita sent Valparaiso University a civil investigative demand to determine whether the school had violated either the Higher Education Act of 1965 or Indiana’s Deceptive Consumer Sales Act.
Valparaiso University spokesperson Nicole Niemi said the university has always been transparent and compliant and reported funds it received to operate the Confucius Institute, as required by the U.S. Department of Education.
“Valparaiso University does not and would not support any kind of endeavor that furthers or promotes communist ideology as doing so would conflict with its Christian mission and purpose and its strong support of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that protects the freedom of speech and religion,” Ms. Niemi said in an email. “As a university with a liberal arts foundation, the programming offered through the Confucius Institute is consistent with our mission and is exclusively focused on music learning and performance and Chinese language as it relates to that focus.”
More than 100 Confucius Institutes operated in the U.S. when Sens. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, and Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat, published a 2019 report examining what they described as a lack of transparency in how the schools managed the institutes. China directly provided more than $158 million to U.S. schools for the Confucius Institutes since 2006, according to the report.
Valpo’s Confucius Institute is one of 38 still operating in the U.S., according to the National Association of Scholars. Eight of the institutes are expected to close, joining 87 others that have shuttered or are in the process of doing so.
The shrinking number of institutes coincided with the Trump administration’s increased scrutiny of them. Last August, the Trump administration designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a foreign mission of the Chinese Communist Party, which required the Washington-based center to share details of its personnel, recruiting, funding and operations with the federal government, according to the State Department.
Tracking China’s influence over schools may become more difficult under President Biden. Soon after Mr. Biden took office, the Department of Homeland Security scrapped plans to force schools to disclose agreements with the Confucius Institutes.
In March, the Senate passed the Confucious Act, which would establish stricter requirements for schools that contract with Confucius Institutes. One requirement would prohibit the application of foreign law on a school’s campus. The Senate approved the bill unanimously, but companion legislation introduced in the House in April has gone nowhere.
When Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, Ohio Republican, introduced the companion legislation, he noted that a portion of the bill had become law through other legislation that blocked Department of Defense dollars from going to universities that host Confucius Institutes.
Concerns about the remaining Confucius Institutes persist, however, and are not limited to college campuses. The National Association of Scholars observed five remaining Confucius Institutes in K-12 public school districts, including Chicago Public Schools.
Asked about the effect of the Confucius Institutes on Indiana, Mr. Rokita said it was difficult to measure. He said he wanted his investigation to reveal whether the Confucius Institutes‘ lobbying of Hoosiers was limited to propaganda efforts neutralizing criticism of China or whether the institutes had particular policy goals aimed at changing America.
“If you look at corporate America and how many members of executive teams or corporate America boardroom members went through, when they were going through the college system, may have been exposed to this, you don’t know,” Mr. Rokita said. “But you have corporate America as woke as ever, trying to do business with the Chinese Communist Party in China while they admittedly have human rights abuses and bad ones — slave labor, murder, where they go after other liberty-loving nations like Taiwan. Where are the corporate morals? They existed before.”