TALLAHASSEE — Miami Dade College on Thursday terminated its contract with the Confucius Institute, effectively shuttering the last of four branches the organization, affiliated with the Chinese government, operated in the Sunshine State.
The move, which comes one week since the college’s board of trustees appointed an interim president, was made “due to low and declining enrollment that does not justify the operational cost” of running the program, the school said in a statement Friday.
Local leaders and a key area lawmaker, Sen. Marco Rubio, praised Miami Dade College for severing ties with the institute, widely criticized for attempting to influence schools in the U.S. while pushing an edited version of Chinese history.
“You made the right decision,” Rubio told Miami Dade College leaders in a tweet.
Lawmakers like Rubio have come down on Confucius Institutes across the U.S. and cut federal funding for the programs, leading to more than a dozen closures over the last few months.
Rubio last year urged Florida colleges and universities to shut down their institutes, a message that seemingly resonated with three of the four schools hosting the Chinese centers. Programs closed at the University of South Florida, the University of North Florida and the University of West Florida, leaving Miami Dade College with the last institute standing.
Miami Dade’s Confucius Institute was kept in the spotlight by a south Florida GOP group that lobbied hard against the program and other Chinese interests in the area, namely in the transportation sector. Rubio credited the organization, the Miami Young Republicans, for raising awareness about the institute ahead of its closure.
The group blasted emails and polled voters on the institute as well as a proposal from a Chinese state-sponsored company to build a monorail across Biscayne Bay. Miami-Dade commissioners on Thursday banned Chinese train companies from bidding on the project, another win for GOP members critical of China.
Armando Ibarra, president of the Miami Young Republicans, told POLITICO the group is working to combat China’s influence in southern Florida.
China “gives the world a false sense of the system they’re trying to export” and uses cultural programs to indoctrinate students, he said.
“I think it’s the most important issue of our time,” Ibarra said of the ongoing tensions between the U.S. and China.
Representatives with the Miami Dade Confucius Institute did not respond to a request for comment.
Billed as regional centers for studying Chinese culture and language, Confucius Institutes rapidly grew in popularity in recent years before the programs began taking heat from lawmakers over links to communism and propaganda.
The institutes, run by a branch of the Chinese Ministry of Education known as Hanban, are known to teach a watered-down version of Chinese culture and history, brushing over human rights and teaching that Taiwan and Tibet belong to Mainland China.
More than 100 of these institutes sprouted up at colleges and universities across the U.S. — bankrolled by the Chinese government’s larger propaganda campaign that its leaders are pumping an estimated $10 billion into annually.
The Confucius Institute played a role in last week’s Miami Dade College board meeting when Chairman Bernie Navarro prompted trustee Marcell Felipe to explain allegations that a candidate for school president had ties to the program.
The candidate in question, Lenore Rodicio, MDC’s executive vice president and provost, chairs the institute’s advisory board, but Felipe declined to publicly dig into the matter, leaving it unresolved. The institute was expected to be discussed at the board’s next meeting, slated for Sept. 17.
Ahead of the meeting, Felipe, an outspoken appointee of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, put out ads denouncing the Confucius Institute and slamming the presidential search process for appearing to favor Rodicio.
Courses will continue at the Confucius Institute until the end of the semester to “minimize disruption” on students and to allow Chinese students and instructors to make arrangements, interim President Rolando Montoya wrote Thursday to organization leaders.