Sun, Aug 09, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Gagging teachers with ‘neutrality’

By Hsu Yue-dian 許育典

The Public Servants Administrative Neutrality Act (公務人員行政中立法) enacted on June 10 lays out a beautiful vision for the civil service, but also shows the slipshod, dragnet approach of legislation.

The act’s formulation and implementation can indeed guide public servants to carry out their administrative duties fairly, without bias for or against any political party and without getting involved in political disputes. However, it does not give due consideration to freedom of expression and academic thought as protected in Article 11 of the Constitution.

This oversight gives rise to a number of problems with regard to the act and which categories of people it applies to.

As for who will be subject to regulation by the act, the legislation gives insufficient consideration to the question of academic freedom.

Article 17 of the act makes “teachers or professors with administrative responsibilities in public schools” and “research personnel in public academic research institutions” subject to its provisions — just like ordinary public servants.

What happens if an academic is of the opinion, based on his or her research, that there are problems with the policies of a particular political party and therefore organizes a petition or demonstration about it?

Anyone who engages in rigorous exploration of the truth can be called an academic, and as such may claim protection of academic freedom under the Constitution.

Moreover, the purpose of academic freedom throughout history has been to oppose those in power and resist the tyranny of the majority. If teachers and professors with administrative responsibilities and research personnel at public institutions express their academic opinions, they should not be limited by the standards of administrative neutrality, because such activities are academic and not administrative.

Article 2 of the act defines “public servants” as including “all full-time employees of public institutions and all administrative employees at public schools.”

Teachers are excluded from this definition in view of the fact that they have been governed by different laws and regulations since the Teachers’ Act (教師法) of 1995.

What is incomprehensible is that, under the provisions of the new act, teachers’ academic freedom vanishes without a trace as soon as they engage in any administrative work.

If the distinction between “teachers or professors with administrative responsibilities at public schools” and “research personnel at public academic research institutions” on the one hand and ordinary public servants on the other is to bring any benefit, then the law should stress the protection of their academic freedom.

While teachers and professors with administrative responsibilities and research personnel at public institutions should enjoy the same freedom of speech as ordinary public servants, they should be given further protection with regard to their academic freedom. Article 17 of the act should therefore include exceptions designed to uphold academic freedom and avoid a situation in which people are intimidated into keeping silent.

The second problem is in the regulations of the act. The act gives insufficient consideration to the question of freedom of expression.

Article 9 states that: “Public servants shall not take part in the following political activities to support or not support any political party, other political organization or political candidate.”

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