January 7, 2015
By: Mary Anne FitzpatrickInternationalism is a major goal of the University of South Carolina’s strategic plan. To be effective in the 21st Century, students must develop a global vision and appreciate the interconnectedness of nations.
I was in China last December to meet with our strategic partner, the Beijing Language and Culture Institute (BLCU), and then to address the Global Confucius Institute Conference in Xiamen. When we opened the Confucius Institute (CI) at USC in 2008, we were proud to partner with BLCU as we knew it to be the most prestigious language, literature and culture institution in China. We were sure that the relationships that our faculty would develop across our humanities groups with their colleagues at BLCU would be productive ones and this has proven to be the case. After we delivered our annual report to BLCU campus leaders, we discussed the next steps in our ongoing initiative. The focus this year is on continuing to research and publish work on Chinese film. Our own Professor Tan Ye organized a very successful film conference in Xi’an, China. The conference brought together international scholars and film makers and we have subsequently convinced a number of artists to contribute their films to our film library collection.
The following week at the Global Conference I presented and discussed how CI’s could develop legitimacy and credibility. I briefly introduced the University of South Carolina and the ongoing success of our Confucius Institute in its work with schools throughout the State of South Carolina and its management and development of the largest Chinese film collection in North America. But the key points that I made discussed the implications of having Confucius Institutes in the United States housed on university campuses. Being hosted by an American university conferred a great deal of legitimacy and provided space and services. In exchange, these institutes have to abide by American university principles and practices surrounding academic freedom.
At its most basic level, academic freedom means that the faculty in their given area of expertise, decide who is hired, who is promoted and what they teach and research. Our faculty are responsible for the curriculum within their own areas. Therefore, the faculty decide what texts are used, what material is covered, what expectations for achievements that we set for students, the lectures and speeches that students should attend, and the general topics for papers and presentations. Some critics of CI’s have questioned whether these institutes limit academic freedom but we have experienced no tension or difficulty at USC.
In addition, we have had no tension with our Chinese partners in supporting artistic freedom. Our CI, which focuses on art and cinema, protects by its nature the rights of artists to create, display, perform and present their visions of society in its present, past and future forms. There has been no questioning of the right of a film to exist or to be screened by audiences here and abroad.
I returned home in time to attend our December graduation and to congratulate 700 students, our last graduates of 2014.
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