Mon, Feb 12, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Improving university elections

By Chang Ruay-shiung 張瑞雄

The public furor over the election of presidents at several universities — National Yang-Ming University, National Taiwan University (NTU), Chinese Culture University and Kaohsiung Medical University — has people wondering how university presidents — about 150 across the nation — are elected.

The process is regulated by the University Act (大學法), with differences between public and private universities. The recent disputes show that there is still room for improvement.

The process for private universities is simpler in that full responsibility rests with a school’s board of directors. As long as the board is sound and reasonable, and its members are unselfish and united, there will be no problems.

The process for public universities is more complicated. First, an election committee must be appointed — 15 to 21 people, with school representatives making up two-fifths, alumni and people of good standing another two-fifths and representatives appointed by the Ministry of Education the remaining one-fifth. A meeting of the election committee requires two-thirds of the members to be present, and a decision needs the support of more than half of those present.

For example, the committee at National Taiwan University has 21 members, so a decision would require 12 votes if all the members were present. In other words, the nine school representatives cannot single-handedly select the new president.

The alumni and people of good standing — two-fifths of a committee — are selected by the university, which leaves room for manipulation. As the election timetable is public, someone with ulterior motives could also attempt to manipulate the committee selection process to get their candidates appointed.

The regulations stipulate that committee members may not be or have been a spouse, relative by blood or by law within the third degree of kinship, or have been in a dissertation adviser-student relationship with a candidate.

However, human relations are complicated and sometimes defined with difficulty. In the latest presidential election at NTU, one candidate was an independent director at a company where one of the members was vice chairman, and the Academia Sinica president was a committee member, while the vice president of the academy was a candidate. It is difficult to decide whether such instances should also be considered conflicts of interest.

The one-fifth appointed by the ministry could represent a definite intervention of sorts. If these representatives are strongly opposed to a certain candidate, it is unlikely that the nominee would be elected president.

Moreover, the ministry representatives participate throughout the whole process, and the president-elect still has to be approved by the ministry.

Can the ministry withhold approval if the candidate is qualified? Whether a one-stage election process can be truly implemented hinges on the answer. The ministry should not be asked to approve the committee’s selection, but simply be told who the president-elect is.

A revision of the act changed the election from a two-stage process, in which the school conducted the election and then the ministry approved the winner, to a one-stage process in hopes of keeping the malfeasance prevalent in political elections away from university campuses.

However, the act contains no explicit ban preventing a school or committee from deciding that all candidates must be approved by its constituency. For example, every candidate could be required to garner the support of more than half of a school’s faculty to run in an election — but even that would not prevent the canvassing or campaigning that is frequently seen in elections.

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