UCD is one of several universities in Ireland to host a Chinese government-backed Confucius Institute. It was established to promote Chinese language and culture.
Academics in UCD’s school of politics previously criticised the fact the institute’s related Irish Institute for Chinese Studies was permitted to teach a class on Chinese politics to UCD students, given China’s human rights records.
Senior academics had argued it was “inappropriate” for an institute “linked with an illiberal state”, to teach students about its own political system.
The institutes, set up in hundreds of universities worldwide, have previously been linked to controversies over academic freedom and espionage accusations.
In a weekly bulletin to all staff, Prof Deeks said he had been “disappointed by some of the misguided commentary” about the university’s Confucius Institute.
Prof Deeks said he had been “particularly disturbed by implicit suggestions that the political loyalties of some colleagues can be inferred from their ethnicity, given our ongoing campaign against racism”.
Prof Deeks, who is stepping down as president in April, said he wanted to remind staff of UCD’s values of “collegiality and diversity”.
“While academic freedom protects academics from discrimination on the basis of their views, even when those views are at variance with the majority view, views should be expressed in a collegiate way,” he said.
The message to staff, seen by The Irish Times, said the university controlled the institute through a board, and its director, Prof Liming Wang, is a UCD employee.
The institute is a “credit to the university” and has been supported by “successive Irish governments,” Prof Deeks told staff. Funding for the institute came from UCD and a partner university in China, Renmin University, he said.
A three-storey temple style building to house the institute on UCD’s campus was built in recent years, part-funded by the Chinese government.
Construction of the building ran several million euro over budget, leading Prof Deeks to request €2.5 million in funding from the Department of Education, which was refused, over fears delays to the project could cause a “diplomatic incident” with China.
Several universities have severed ties with the controversial institutes in recent years. The US state department has required the Washington-based Confucius Institute US Center, which manages institutes set up in America, to register as a “foreign mission” due to its links to Beijing.