Sat, Jul 03, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Streaker's punishmentand higher education

By Huang Cheng-yi黃丞儀

The heavy punishment given to the student streaker who ran around athletic field naked after losing a bet with friends has received much media coverage and social criticism.

The punishment was handed down by Chang Gung University (長庚大學) President Chia-chu Pao (包家駒). In an interview, apart from blaming the student for his inappropriate behavior, Pao said the punishment would uphold Chang Gung's school spirit, and hoped the outside world would respect the university's decision.

The student was punished with two major demerits, two minor demerits and "detention under surveillance" for streaking after the US NBA basketball team he had bet on lost the championship. I can't help but wonder about two age-old questions: What is a good university? What kind of students do we expect from outstanding universities?

After the student's punishment was announced, some university presidents said that it was unnecessary to make a big deal about this case, while others claimed the punishment was simply a result of different customs in Taiwan and abroad.

Perhaps the reason why some people are angry about the streaking incident is their discomfort about discussing nudity. But doesn't this thinking lack respect for people's autonomy over their own bodies?

The so-called school spirit being upheld at Chang Gung University is too abstract and ambiguous. What should constitute school spirit anyway? Shouldn't it be expressed by the student body and faculty? Or should it be decided by school donors, founders or even administrators?

Monied backers and the administration of a university should confine themselves to matters of ethics, not school spirit. The punishment, based on the reasoning that the streaking incident damaged the reputation of the university, highlights one thing -- that school administrators can hand down punishments to students arbitrarily, since the notion of school reputation is vague. This kind of school regulation reflects the unlimited power of university policy makers in deciding which kind of behavior is appropriate and which is not. It represents, traditional Chinese law, while the important modern legal concept of due process is often ignored in university disciplinary procedures. Those being punished do not know this, nor do they seek remedies for such a contradiction. Student groups at some universities do not support students punished by administrators, and do not work to safeguard their rights. That's why we saw the harsh punishment given to a repentant student intimidated by his school go unchallenged.

The ability to pressure universities to reform got weaker after the Council of Grand Justices ruled on the constitutional interpretation of university autonomy and academic freedom in 1995. Such demands for reform have been replaced by formalistic concerns such as tuition hikes and school rankings. The idea of university autonomy has become a protective shell that excludes calls for higher education reform. If an internal auditing mechanism is absent, school commissions may become mere rubber-stamping bodies while outsiders do not have a say.

At a time when university authorities are beginning to learn from European and US educational models, Taiwanese university administrators still function according to outdated power relations and traditional authoritarian disciplinary modes. This could not have been farther away from the university autonomy that was pushed for under the university reform declaration that was proposed in 1987 by a local student movement striving for university autonomy.

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