The College Board and Chinese Government Influence

By Tyler Bonin

The College Board, the organization which administers the SAT and creates Advanced Placement (AP) curricula used in high schools across the United States, has developed a close working relationship with the Chinese government in recent years. On September 2nd, the National Association of Scholars (NAS) released a report entitled “Corrupting the College Board,” which outlined the connection between the College Board and Hanban, the Beijing-based headquarters of the Confucius Institutes—an organization that provides Chinese government-funded language and cultural education within both U.S. colleges and K-12 schools. In recent years, the Confucius Institutes have received criticism from professors due to their role in Chinese government influence on academic freedom, overt censorship of academic materials, and surveillance of classroom activities. Nearly thirty U.S. colleges with Confucius Institutes have severed ties with the Beijing-based organization within the last six years. Last year, Australian authorities opened investigations related to issues of autonomy, transparency, and academic freedom within universities that house Confucius Institutes. Similarly, the U.S. Department of State recently designated the institutes as a foreign mission of the People’s Republic of China.

The report indicates that the College Board facilitated the development of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms for K-12 schools in the United States, while looking to Hanban for both financing and co-development of the AP Chinese Language and Culture test. This relationship with the College Board also includes the Hanban provision of teachers and textbooks to U.S. schools, as well as fully-funded trips for teachers and students to visit China. The evolution of the College Board’s relationship with Hanban occurred while American scholars were growing increasingly alarmed by the pernicious influence of these Chinese state-funded academic initiatives on U.S. campuses.

Much of the public disapproval of the Confucius Institutes does not necessarily arise from a fear of deliberate propagandizing, but rather from the concern that Chinese state-funded curricula and other initiatives will undoubtedly whitewash a history of authoritarianism and subsequent civil protest in China (think Tiananmen Square in 1989), in addition to silencing important cultural Chinese voices due to either their connection to dissent or due to a philosophical tradition at odds with the current regime’s mandates. Self-censorship has grown as a problem on campuses with Confucius Institutes; administrators (nervous about losing funding if they provoke the anger of the Chinese government) opt on the side of caution and cancel speakers and programs that touch on such subjects as Chinese human rights abuses and Tibetan sovereignty. The report notes that the College Board has monopolized many elements of teaching in U.S. high schools—from standardized tests to AP courses—and thus exerts great influence on the policies and standards that affect millions of students. By prioritizing its relationship with Hanban, and by extension the Chinese government, the College Board has neglected the pillars of a liberal education. American students deserve better. 

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