The GAO is basically Congress’s audit division. Congress asked them to look into the Chinese government supported Confucius Institutes. About 100 US colleges, including UO, have these. The GAO asked to meet with CI administrators and a selection of faculty. They also scheduled a 30 minute meeting with me, as Senate Pres, to ask about the potential for interference in academic freedom, what procedures the Senate had in place to safeguard this, and any examples of violations I might know of at UO.
I explained what I knew – namely that UO’s CI was mostly under the control of UO faculty, that it did not teach regular classes or have any influence over faculty hiring, and that while it seemed clear that our faculty were not going to ask the CI to pay for research on things that the Chinese government might get angry about, such as the suppression of Falun Gong, ethnic cleansing in Tibet, or the general lack of civil rights in China, and that while Chinese students have told me they believe their government spies on them while they are in the US, I had no reason to believe that UO’s CI had attempted to suppress such research at UO, or had engaged in such spying at UO.
The only odd part of the meeting, in retrospect, was that the three GAO reps were accompanied throughout by UO VP for International Affairs Dennis Galvan and AVP for Federal Affairs Betsy Boyd. I’d have thought that the GAO would have insisted on meeting privately with faculty on something like this. While I didn’t have any punches to pull, I can imagine that some of the other faculty might have been reluctant to say some things under these circumstances.