The Confucius Institute is in good standing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a university spokeswoman said Thursday.

The UNL institute primarily teaches Chinese language in K-12 schools in Nebraska, but it also sponsors cultural activities, musical shows, holiday celebrations and academic exchanges between UNL and Xi'an Jiaotong University of China, said UNL spokeswoman Leslie Reed.

Some in the U.S. House of Representatives and even the American Association of University Professors view the cultural outposts across the nation with suspicion.

A draft proposal in the House seeks to require Confucius Institutes to register as foreign agents.

The effort, headed by U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., targets any foreign funding at U.S. universities that aims to promote the agenda of a foreign government.

The programs are on more than 100 American college and university campuses. The Chinese Communist Party has said Confucius Institutes are used for propaganda.

The FBI said it was "watching warily" activities at Confucius Institutes.

Reed said the institute at UNL is not a propaganda tool. UNL has housed a Confucius Institute for 11 years. The institute provides 10 faculty members from China who teach Chinese in Nebraska.

The AAUP in 2014 expressed concern about the institutes' censoring discussion of topics such as Tibet, Taiwan and the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Reed said congressional and AAUP scrutiny "arise from lack of knowledge about the program."

The institute has no formal role in the academic program of UNL and has no effect on its academic freedom, Reed said.

UNL's Confucius Institute website indicates that the organization has seven board members, including UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green, Nebraska Education Commissioner Matthew Blomstedt, Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale and UNL administrator William Nunez. The three others have links to Xi'an Jiaotong University.

Members of Congress expressing concern about the institutes include Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

In February he called on his state's schools to close their Confucius Institutes, citing "China's aggressive campaign to 'infiltrate' American classrooms, stifle free inquiry, and subvert free expression both at home and abroad."

A few universities have eliminated the programs.

At UNL, Confucius Institute Director Charles Wood has worked at the university for 21 years and is director of the Nebraska Center for Virology.

He was born and raised in Hong Kong, then a British colony. Ten percent of his UNL appointment is directed toward the institute, Reed said.

"We're doing this for the benefit of Nebraska. Chinese is a fast-growing language, " Wood said. "China is such an important trading partner, we'll be left behind if we don't know the language and the culture."

This report includes material from Foreign Policy.

rick.ruggles@owh.com, 402-444-1123

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