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Senate supports temporary Confucius Institute on campus

INSIDE ILLINOIS, Feb. 7, 2013 | Mike Helenthal, News Editor | 217-333-5491  [Email | Share ]

The Academic Senate on Feb. 4 voted to support the temporary establishment of a Confucius Institute on the Urbana campus.

The decision solidifies a preliminary agreement last fall between Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise and officials of Jiangxi Normal University made during the chancellor’s outreach trip to China.

The institute’s charter will run for five years and emphasize collaborative research and the Chinese language, said Sen. Nicholas Burbules, a professor of education policy, organization and leadership, and the chair of the General University Policy committee, which recommended the proposal’s adoption.

There are about 350 Confucius Institutes worldwide, he said, which are financially supported by the Chinese Ministry of Education as vehicles for cultural and linguistic outreach. The Urbana institute will start with $150,000 in annual funding.

Burbules said an institute’s outreach many times goes beyond the boundaries of the host campus and into the community, with some sponsoring cultural events and some going so far as to provide Chinese language teachers for local high schools.

Burbules said some committee members had voiced concerns over the possibility of Chinese government influence on the activities of the institute. He said the discussion had led to safeguards ensuring the institute is controlled by the principles of academic freedom.

After five years, the institute would submit to a review process that “will look at the institute’s success in achieving its mission, its performance in attracting external funding, and its record in preserving institutional autonomy, institutional neutrality, and academic freedom,” said the proposal that was considered by the GUP.

“If the partnership is not equal, we have the option of not renewing it,” Burbules said.

Wise said the partnership expands opportunities for even broader collaborations.

“It’s a pilot that has potential to grow into other areas,” she said.

The institute will be overseen by International Programs and Studies, in collaboration with the College of Education, the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies, and the Chinese language program in the department of East Asian languages and cultures.

Hua-Hua Chang, a professor of educational psychology and of psychology, will serve as the institute’s director.

Other business

  •  Senators approved the formation of the TIAA-CREF Center for Farmland Research, which will study asset valuation and financial performance from a variety of agricultural perspectives.

The center is being supported with $200,000 annually from TIAA-CREF and will be a unit within the department of agricultural and consumer economics.

Outreach activities and research will be disseminated on ACE’s farmdoc website. Under the center’s structure, researchers will retain control of their work.

  •  Senators were given an update on the university’s involvement with Coursera, a massive open online course (MOOC) aggregator the U. of I. joined last year.

Deanna Raineri, the associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said campus leaders have committed to funding the creation of 10 Coursera classes; the deadline for accepting course “pre-proposals” is March 4.

She said successful proposals should show that content can be delivered effectively online and at the same time support the university’s land-grant mission. Proposals also should effectively incorporate MOOC technology and include detailed curriculum and budget information.

“We’re really looking to see how well the course content can fit that format,” Raineri said, adding that policies have been developed to protect content and faculty ownership rights, and that normal “fair use” rules continue to apply.

She said a website will go online soon to offer guidance for anyone interested in submitting a MOOC course proposal. The website, at, will include guides, templates, helpful articles and a frequently asked questions section.

The U. of I. already offers 10 courses on Coursera and has signed up nearly 230,000 online students in less than six months. A soon-to-be-offered Android apps class has nearly 60,000 students taking it at once.

  •  A collective bargaining presentation was given in response to the efforts of some supporters to unionize faculty members on the Urbana campus. A person speaking for collective bargaining and one against the idea were each given 10 minutes to address the senate.

Sen. Randy McCarthy, a professor of mathematics, argued that unionized strength could be used to improve shared governance and fight “administrative bloat.”

“We need to get the balance back,” he said. “We need a means to raise our collective voices to administration so that we will not only be politely listened to for advice but once again respectfully invited as a partner in the debate of our campus’s future.”

Sen. Burbules argued against unionizing, saying such an arrangement would threaten quality, cause many faculty member to leave the university, create an adversarial atmosphere to the detriment of shared governance, and enhance neither the mission of the university nor the rights of faculty members. He said many of the monetary issues that unions typically bargain for wouldn’t be relevant because they are determined at the state level.

“At a time of diminishing revenues, the problem is not ‘bosses’ who refuse to pay workers more,” he said, “but the budgetary constraints imposed on the university by the state of Illinois.”

Transcripts (PDFs) of the remarks from McCarthy and Bubules are posted online.

Highlights »