The Ministry of Education has decided to not appoint Kuan Chung-ming (管中閔) as president of National Taiwan University (NTU). The decision has been met with strong disapproval from some of the lecturers and students at the university.
In addition to Kuan saying that he will try to resolve the issue in court, the university has said that it will appeal the ministry’s decision, while some students are preparing street demonstrations in support of Kuan.
The rationale behind all these actions is to uphold respect for “university autonomy.”
Since Taiwan is a free nation, Taiwanese have the right to have their own opinions and to make those opinions heard, so the actions of the NTU faculty and students should be treated with respect.
However, in addition to protesting to protect its rights and interests, the school should also consider what it should do to face up to the doubts and questions of the world outside of academia. If it does not, it will likely be difficult to put an end to the concerns and questions.
Considering the nomination process as a whole, the ministry did not interfere with the selection process in the early stages, and only started investigating the issue as a result of reports from NTU faculty and students.
In other words, it was people within the university who initiated the controversy over Kuan’s nomination, rather than the ministry interfering in the issue.
NTU’s Administrative Council has been unwilling to provide a straightforward response to the concerns among faculty and students, and has instead relied on procedural technicalities to shelve the issue. This has been perceived by observers as insufficiently straightforward and had a negative effect on the school’s image and the respect it commands.
Furthermore, the issue that has been most strongly criticized is that while Kuan has served as an independent member on the Taiwan Mobile board, the company’s vice chairman Richard Tsai (蔡明興) was a member of the NTU presidential nomination committee.
Leaving aside the issue of whether this contravenes conflict of interest regulations and focusing only on the views of observers, it is clear that such an arrangement is extremely inappropriate.
Since the situation so readily lends itself to conjecture, one wonders why the university has been trying to muddle through, doing nothing more than repeat that the situation does not contravene procedural principles.
Some of the NTU faculty and students have said that they are fighting for Kuan’s dignity, but it would seem appropriate that they should begin by engaging in some self-reflection and consider why people within the university and external observers have so many questions about the selection process.
Another question that must be asked is how the Administrative Council, the university’s highest democratic representative organization, can so pointedly ignore all the questions and concerns.
Although the school talks widely about the sacrosanct “university autonomy,” such a frivolous approach to the situation will not put public concern at rest and restore the school’s dignity.
Hsu Yu-fang is a professor in National Dong Hua University’s department of Sinophone literatures.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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