Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lu Hsueh-chang (呂學樟), convener of the Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee, led a team inspecting the Academia Sinica on Monday. Lu said that as the institution falls under the jurisdication of the Presidential Office, academics are technically civil servants and should therefore be politically neutral and should furthermore observe administrative ethics.
He said that if the institution is found to have performed poorly, the government should consider abolishing it.
Academia Sinica and the public were up in arms. Lu later said his words had been taken out of context, seeking to clarify his position by saying he had not referred to scrapping the Academia Sinica itself; that it was just that he felt that the Institutum Iurisprudentiae and the Institute of Political Science had become considerably politically partisan not long after they were established. He added that, according to the Office of the President Organization Act (總統府組織法), unwanted departments could be abolished.
It is true that Article 17 of the President Organization Act states that the Academia Sinica “shall be under the direct administrative supervision of the Office of the President” and is part of the administrative system. It is also true that its researchers are considered civil servants and therefore subject to the stipulations in Article 7 of the Civil Service Administrative Neutrality Act (公務人員行政中立法), which prohibits their membership in any political party and engaging in other political activity. Also, researchers are bound by Article 2 of the Civil Service Act (公務員服務法).
However, the Academia Sinica is a research institution. Researchers have a constitutional right to academic freedom. There should not exist a relationship of top-down state authority. The Academia Sinica should not be regarded as an organ of the state following directives from the government, nor should its resources and academic research be subject to state control. This is a serious infringement of academic freedom.
The entire inspection process was questionable to the utmost degree and reveals the desire of certain politicians to control academic institutions and their staff. Legislators are elected representatives of the public, but Lu prioritizing the president’s interests in this manner amply demonstrates that the party-state is alive and well and that the Constitution is foundering. Threatening to abolish the Academia Sinica or any of its institutes is pernicious behavior and will likely have a chilling effect in academia.
Chinese society traditionally has the utmost respect for its educated elite and in Confucian thought intellectuals have a social responsibility to ensure the state is stable, ordered and robust. Through their studies, academics help steer society on the correct course, not only from their position in the government — many in the Cabinet hold doctorates — but also from within the opposition, providing critiques and recommendations for government policy.
It would be naive to think Lu’s inspection was unrelated to the role Academia Sinica associate researcher Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) played in the Sunflower protest movement. However, threatening to abolish the nation’s highest research institution, or targeting specific institutes within it, just to get at one man is to make an enemy of academia.
Even former dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), who had absolute power, knew not to make enemies of the intelligentsia. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) no longer seems to care about his rock-bottom popularity, and seems content to go down in history as the president who suppressed academic freedom in this country. Once again, he is showing himself to be capable of impossibly stupid behavior.
If Ma still cares about his legacy, he should come out in defense of academic freedom and freedom of expression, and condemn Lu’s actions.
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