Republican Senators Question College Board Over Alleged Ties With Chinese Government

Republican Senators Question College Board Over Alleged Ties With Chinese Government
A view of the Confucius Institute building on the Troy University campus in Troy, Ala., on March 16, 2018. (Kreeder13 via Wikimedia Commons)
Bill Pan

A group of seven Republican senators are demanding that the College Board explain its role in the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) propaganda campaign aimed at the United States' primary education system.

In an Oct. 26 letter (pdf) to College Board CEO David Coleman, the senators asked the New York-based education company to explain the nature of its partnership with Hanban, the Chinese government agency that oversees the Confucius Institutes (CI) around the world, including 75 in the United States. In August, State Secretary Mike Pompeo designated the Confucius Institute's U.S. headquarters as a foreign mission, describing the program as "an entity advancing Beijing's global propaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S. campuses and K-12 classrooms."
Citing an August report from the National Association of Scholars (NAS), the senators expressed concerns that the decade-long relationship between College Board and Hanban could serve as a gateway for Beijing to influence young American minds. According to the NAS report, the College Board has worked with Hanban since at least 2003 to develop the Advanced Placement (AP) Chinese Language and Culture exam, which remains one of the most popular AP programs in foreign languages. Some 13,000 students took the exam in 2019.

The NAS report further alleged that College Board also helped Hanban set up 15 CI classrooms and place some 1,650 government-approved Chinese language teachers in high schools across the country, in exchange for $700,000 funding from the Chinese government. NAS President Peter Wood also said that previous NAS reports have documented an "ideological skew" in the AP U.S. History and AP European History courses, affecting the learning of tens of thousands of American students.

"We are concerned that the PRC exploits its partnership with College Board to stifle conversation that might undermine the reputation of the CCP," the senators wrote, requesting more information about the Chinese government's alleged involvement in the AP Chinese exams, the "oversight practices" the College Board implemented under foreign influence, and the alleged financial ties between the College Board and Chinese government-backed entities.

The letter was signed by Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), James Lankford (R-Okla.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Most of them also sponsored the Transparency for Confucius Institutes Act, a proposed legislation that would require program participation agreements between Confucius Institutes and U.S. schools that house them to address the ways that Beijing exerts inappropriate influence.

In 2004, the University of Maryland became the first institution in the United States to host a Confucius Institute. The number of CIs across the country steadily increased over time, growing to roughly 100 at its peak. University of Maryland closed its CI this summer, citing the 2019 U.S. National Defense Authorization Act, which prohibits schools to receive language program funding from the Defense Department while keeping their CIs.