The Irish Times view on UCD and China: a case to answer

The university’s president has reignited a row over courses provided by a China-funded department

UCD president Prof Andrew Deeks said he was “disappointed by some of the misguided commentary” about the Confucius Institute at the university. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

A simmering dispute about the appropriateness of a course on Chinese politics being taught under the aegis of a Chinese government-funded department in UCD has been reignited by an email defending it to staff from the university president.

Thirteen of the college's academics have signed a letter criticising the email and reiterating arguments that delivery of the course, by the college's Irish Institute for Chinese Studies (IICS), "devalues and endangers UCD's academic reputation". They argue it was inappropriate for an institute "linked with an illiberal state" to teach students about its own political system. The IICS is closely linked to the college's Confucius Institute, part of an international Chinese-state-supported network in hundreds of universities internationally established to promote Chinese culture and language. Concerns about independence have led a number of colleges to sever links with the group.

UCD president Prof Andrew Deeks said he was "disappointed by some of the misguided commentary" about the institute and "particularly disturbed by implicit suggestions that the political loyalties of some colleagues can be inferred from their ethnicity". He said criticism failed to respect proper "collegial" norms.

It was a claim that irked his academic critics. The debate, they insist, is “not about the ethnicity of the staff” but the “independence” of teaching. “Particularly worrying” was Prof Deeks’s interpretation of academic freedom which, they said, implied “autocratic regimes are merely cultural variants that should be treated as such”. The signatories of the letter included professors in the schools of politics, philosophy, English, sociology and art history.


UCD has a case to answer.Staff funded and directed in part by a notoriously authoritarian regime, however well-meaning and notionally independent they may be, cannot be expected to present students with an unvarnished and critical account of that state’s political system. The spurned offer of the college’s own politics department to provide such a course should be reconsidered.