A number of academics in University College Dublin have expressed strong opposition to a course on Chinese history and politics being delivered by an institute they believe has links with the Beijing regime.
The academics say that the delivery of the course, by the UCD Irish Institute for Chinese Studies (IICS), "devalues and endangers UCD's academic reputation."
The course, which is geared towards business students, counts for credits for the award of a UCD degree.
The academics argue that IICS is too closely linked to the campus-based Confucius Institute, which is a joint venture between the university and a state body in Beijing.
A spokesman for the university said the IICS is an academic centre in the university that is governed “in the same manner as all academic centres.”
The institute’s teaching staff are appointed in accordance with the university’s human resources policies and procedures and are affiliated with a UCD School, he said.
The Confucius Institute hosted at UCD does not deliver any teaching accredited by the university, he added.
However an associate professor with the UCD School of Politics and International Relations, Alexander Dukalskis, said there was little difference between the IICS and the Confucius Institute.
“The reality is that the two entities were established at the same time, have the same director, the same email address, the same phone number, the same building, overlapping senior staff, and share the same mission to promote teaching Chinese studies,” he said.
The head of the School of Politics and International Relations, Prof David Farrell, said he is also unhappy about the course.
“The UCD School of Politics and International Relations has been arguing for some time now that it should be the unit responsible for teaching Chinese politics (indeed, we offer just such a module), not a unit that in any way, however remotely, is associated with the Confucius Institute,” he said.
The description of the course on the UCD website says it "enables an understanding of the changing forms of governance in China" and that "key figures such as Sun Yatsen, Mao Zedong, and Deng Xiaoping are discussed in the light of the socio-political impact they had."
The course also covers “the relationship between the government and the Communist Party of China” and “China’s ‘style’ of international relations”.
The objections by academics at the School of Politics to the course have been the subject of meetings and email exchanges between different figures in the university, with Prof Farrell taking the matter up with, among others, Prof Dolores O’Riordan, vice-president for global engagement at UCD.
In an email to staff in the school, Prof Farrell said one of the outcomes of the exchanges had been that the word “politics” had been removed from the title of the module, and replaced by the word “governance”, but that the content of the course had remained largely unchanged.
“We could register our protest with the president, and we could insist that as a matter of urgency the IICS should be formally and fully separated from the [Confucius Institute],” he said in an email to staff seeking suggestions.
In an email to Prof O’Riordan on July 26th he said: “I am telling you categorically that it is unacceptable to us.”
In an email the following day he said “we object in the strongest possible terms to the decision to keep this module on the books.”
Prof O'Riordan told Prof Farrell that same day that Prof Maeve Houlihan of the UCD Lochlann Quinn School of Business was content with the proposed changes to the course.
She also said she deeply regretted that the engagement between them had come to a position where she did not see any reason to continue with it.