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WMU has nation's newest Confucius Institute

Aug. 1, 2009

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University will become home to a Confucius Institute this fall, a development that will provide new Chinese language and cultural studies options for WMU students and faculty and dramatically expand international opportunities for area K-12 schools and local businesses.

WMU President John M. Dunn and a small campus delegation traveled to China in July to finalize a set of agreements that establish the WMU Confucius Institute and cement a partnership between WMU and the prestigious Beijing Language and Culture University, China's premier international institution for language instruction. The related five-year renewable agreements make WMU a formal partner in an international effort to expand the teaching of Chinese language and culture. The effort is under the auspices of the Office of Chinese Language Council International of China's Ministry of Education, known more commonly as the Hanban.

The international network of institutions WMU is joining includes the world's premier universities, each with a Confucius Institute and each in a formal partnership with a Chinese university or institute. American universities in the network now number 61, with the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and WMU becoming the 60th and 61st members, respectively, this summer. Michigan is the only state with four Confucius Institutes, with Michigan State and Wayne State universities also part of the initiative.

"A major component of these partnerships and the entire Confucius Institute network is the commitment of each member to provide new opportunities for local school districts and business communities," says Dunn. "The Hanban recognized WMU's existing strengths in China studies and the caliber of our existing language specialists and researchers. They were convinced of this University's ability to leverage those strengths to extend benefits to the entire region."

Goals of the WMU Confucius Institute

  • Teaching Chinese language and culture to University students and members of the greater community
  • Promoting international cooperation and exchange of students
  • Strengthening collaborations with local schools and community businesses to train teachers and offer language and culture workshops, summer camps, fine arts events and travel opportunities
  • Developing students ready to meet competitive market demands
  • Aiding WMU's development as a dynamic international university with strong ties to Chinese partners

The agreements signed in China July 7 will bring five or six Chinese language faculty members, financially sponsored by the Chinese partners, to the WMU campus each year to help the University expand language arts and cultural offerings on campus. In addition, WMU's library holdings will be enhanced, and the Beijing school will designate WMU as one of its major study abroad sites and begin sending as many as 30 students to study in Kalamazoo each year.

The WMU Confucius Institute will be supported over its first five years with funding from the Hanban, which will be matched by WMU largely with support for such things as office space and personnel needs, assistance to visiting professors, faculty time in several colleges for institute work, travel, curriculum development and designation of an institute director. The initial funding from the Hanban is $150,000, and a similar figure will be sought for each of the succeeding years.

"The Confucius Institute program represents the commitment on the part of the Chinese government to extend and expand knowledge about China and its language and culture with people all over the world," says Dr. Donald G. McCloud, dean of WMU's Haenicke Institute for Global Education who accompanied Dunn to Beijing. "The program represents one of the largest intercultural education programs ever established, and although differing in format, in the area of international education, the Confucius Institute program holds many goals similar to our Fulbright scholar and student exchange programs."

WMU's Confucius Institute proposal was developed by Dr. Xiaojun Wang, professor of foreign languages and head of the University's Chinese language program; Dr. Roger Tang, professor of accountancy and Upjohn Chair of Business Administration; and Dr. Dewei Qi, professor of paper engineering, chemical engineering and imaging. Also involved were Dr. Cynthia Running-Johnson, chair of the Department of Foreign Languages; W. Wilson Woods, associate dean of the Haenicke Institute and Dr. Susan Stapleton, associate dean of College of Arts and Sciences.

McCloud and Wang were both members of the July delegation. McCloud will chair the Institute Executive Committee, and Wang will become the Confucius Institute director. Tang and Qi will serve as members of the advisory committee. The WMU proposal was supported by the University's existing China Research Group, which includes more than 20 faculty members from across the University.

"We wouldn't be able to establish the Confucius Institute at WMU without teamwork, joint efforts and support by the whole University community," Wang says. "It is a sign of our University's commitment to global education. It also marks a new step of our long journey. The Confucius Institute at WMU will serve as a window and bridge to China for our University and the region."

WMU's partner institution in China, the Beijing Language and Culture University, is one with which the University has had a long relationship. Dr. Timothy Light, professor emeritus of comparative religion, served as a visiting professor at BLCU in the early 1980s; Wang has been serving as a visiting professor there since 2002; BLCU's former president, Professor Lu Bisong, holds an honorary doctorate from WMU; and University students have routinely traveled to Beijing to study there since 1998. During the July visit, the delegation met with a group of WMU students who are now enrolled there.

Confucius Institute activities are expected to begin immediately, but the University will have a formal ceremonial launch for the initiative in November. That ceremony is expected to attract the directors of Hanban and the president of Beijing Language and Culture University.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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