Mon, Jul 13, 2009 - Page 8 News List

The Act that silences academics

By Chiu Hei-Yuan 瞿海源

The Act Governing the Administrative Impartiality of Public Officials (公務人員行政中立法) was passed by the legislature in May and promulgated by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on June 10. The Act prohibits research fellows in public academic institutions from engaging in politics to support or oppose political parties, political organizations or candidates for public office.

Meanwhile, the legislature passed a resolution requiring that the Ministry of Education submit a bill to the legislature subjecting faculty in public universities to a similar ban.

With the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) dominating the legislature and the Democratic Progressive Party neglecting its legislative duties, legislation restricting the political rights of academics and teachers has been passed and promulgated by a president who is not paying attention. This shows that the KMT has been going against democratic trends since regaining power.

Article 9 is the core of the Act. It prohibits public officials from participating in political activities. The text of the article severely infringes upon the basic civil right to engage in politics when it states that public servants must not participate in political activities in support of or opposition to political parties, other political organizations or political candidates.

The political party is a key mechanism in a democracy, yet the article deprives public servants and academics of their right to be political. On the surface, the legislation merely places restrictions on academics who support or oppose parties or candidates, but in reality it forbids almost all political comment and activity by academics. What kind of politics is disconnected from political parties?

Activities prohibited by the article include hosting rallies, launching parades and initiating petitions, placing advertisements bearing the names and titles of academics in the mass media, stumping for candidates, joining marches and soliciting votes.

Since June 10, research fellows at Academia Sinica and staff of museums and libraries at all levels have been prohibited from participating in any such activity. In future, the Examination Yuan and the Cabinet could widen the prohibition even further.

The Act adopts different standards for other professionals. For instance, department chairs at private universities are allowed to do what their counterparts at public universities cannot. Research fellows at Academia Sinica are prohibited from doing what university professors can do. The same applies to public school staff, who cannot do what professors are allowed to do.

Implementing legislation to reduce political rights for members of public academic institutions but not for their private counterparts shows just how unnecessary it is.

For example, a department chair at a private university can launch a petition and collect signatures to criticize a political party, but it would be illegal for public university department chairs to do so.

I have participated in many signature campaigns over the years, but I am not allowed to now because I work at Academia Sinica. My old colleagues in the university system can still do so, at least before the Ministry of Education decides to extend “administrative impartiality” to faculty.

The Examination Yuan proposed the Act. The first version was filled with many unreasonable regulations, but the legislature then allowed each legislator to attach more unreasonable conditions. The Examination Yuan had proposed that the Act cover impartiality of “research fellows with administrative duties at public academic institutions,” but legislators proposed that this also cover “research fellows at public academic institutions.” Surprisingly, it was passed.

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