By Lauren Lavelle
The possibility of the Chinese government becoming involved in the transaction of Westminster Choir College (WCC) from Rider University to Kaiwen Education was questioned by a WCC alum at an open meeting on March 4 regarding the future of the choir school.
“Is there any precaution to prevent the Chinese government from pushing its international agenda through this acquisition,” an anonymous alum asked the Dean of Westminster College of the Arts Marshall Onofrio and Kaiwen accreditation consultant Larry Livingston via email, touching on an issue that has recently roiled American higher education and Washington politics.
Both Onofrio and Livingston denied the alum’s assumption the Chinese government would play a role in the merger, and defended Kaiwen’s intentions.
“First of all, this is not the Chinese government. This is a publicly operated company so this is an important distinction to make, and I have had no discussions nor inkling of any government interference of any kind,” said Livingston.
However, last month the head of the FBI warned members of Congress about Chinese infiltration into American higher education.
FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee that “collectors” had infiltrated American universities in order to gather intelligence on behalf of the Chinese government. Wray told lawmakers that institutions of higher education demonstrated “naivete” about the threat and were exacerbating the problem.
Also last month, Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio encouraged all Florida colleges and universities to cut all ties with programs funded and run by the Chinese government, citing “China’s aggressive campaign to ‘infiltrate’ American classrooms, stifle free inquiry, and subvert free expression both at home and abroad.”
In recent years, some American colleges and universities have also ended arrangements with Chinese-government funded “Confucius Institutes,” out of fear of censorship and threats to academic freedom.
Onofrio dismissed concerns about Chinese ownership and reiterated Livingston’s statement.
“This is a publicly traded company, much like most of the companies you do business with in your everyday life,” he said.
Although both Onofrio and Livingston denied the alum’s concern, neither provided possible precautions for the event of a Chinese government interference.