Sat, May 10, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Responsible academics don’t need restrictions

By Chen Mao-Hsiung 陳茂雄

A proposal by Soochow University’s board of trustees to limit the frequency of appearances by faculty on political talkshows has provoked widespread criticism.

People argue that the proposal infringes on freedom of speech, but I think it is far-fetched to associate appearing on these talkshows with freedom of speech. It would be more appropriate to see it as “political activity.”

Pan-blue academics stress the pan-blue camp’s advantages and the pan-green camp’s shortcomings in these talk shows, while pan-green academics do the opposite, and some even get involved in the Democratic Progressive Party’s internal squabbles. This is political activity, and not just a matter of freedom of speech. What should be addressed is whether faculty members should become entwined in politics.

Faculty members should be encouraged to talk about academic issues on TV or participate in activities relating to public welfare, but if they get involved in political or other activities, it should be asked whether this would affect the quality of their teaching and research.

It is mistaken to assume that the work of academics consists only of teaching and that they can do whatever they want outside the classroom. They must also conduct research and prepare classes.

The work of public servants can be divided into two types: the nine-to-five system and the responsibility system. The latter does not impose specific working hours as long as you finish your designated work. You do not need to clock in when coming to work or clock out when going home. At the same time, there is no overtime because the total workload is regarded as part of one’s basic duties. The work of academics is similar: They do not have mandated working hours as long as they do well in their teaching and research.

I was the first professor to overtly participate in the Taiwanese independence movement in Kaohsiung and Pingtung. In the early days, National Sun Yat-sen University was generally recognized as affiliated with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), thus many of my friends were worried that I would suffer oppression.

Instead, I was treated very respectfully. The reason for this was that I finished the work I had to do and did not cause any trouble. When participating in political activities outside the campus, I taught and did research at school and managed to conduct at least one project for the National Science Council every year. At the time, restrictions on applying for council projects were not very strict, and I had two projects in the works every year while supervising an adequate number of graduate students. In addition, my research papers were published in prestigious international journals every year. Because I had met my responsibilities at the university, the school did not interfere with my political activities off campus.

Teachers should be devoted to teaching and finish their work before engaging in other activities. Academics who do not participate in political activities will tend not to be noticed if they do not perform very well in their teaching and research. But if they start participating in political activities, their teaching and research will come under immediate scrutiny. If they are found to be neglecting their duties, taking part in political activities will give them a negative image.

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