Fri, Aug 31, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Autonomy starts with right leader

By Cheng Ling-fang 成令方

University autonomy is a buzzword that has been used again and again in the controversy over the election of former minister without portfolio Kuan Chung-ming (管中閔) as president of National Taiwan University (NTU) and the Ministry of Education’s refusal to approve his appointment.

The legal basis for university autonomy in Taiwan is Article 1 of the University Act (大學法), the second paragraph of which reads: “Universities shall be guaranteed academic freedom and shall enjoy autonomy within the range of laws and regulations.”

However, due to the limitations of the background against which the act was drawn up 11 years ago, university autonomy has not been thoroughly implemented on Taiwan’s campuses. On the contrary, high-ranking figures who occupy powerful positions on campus have used the act to consolidate their power and influence.

Addressing the dispute, Premier William Lai (賴清德) said: “According to the law, the Ministry of Education has the power of oversight, and it should have the moral courage, and does have a legal responsibility, to make its opinion known.”

However, in the course of the NTU president selection process, the ministry’s Department of Higher Education did not rigorously do its duty by exercising oversight and putting the act into practice, and this failure has led to social discord.

If the nation’s top university can get into such an awful mess, what about private universities? Having been a representative on the university affairs council at Kaohsiung Medical University (KMU) for many years, I am only too familiar with this painful reality.

We need to recognize that there is a big difference between a school’s board of trustees and a company’s board of directors, because a school is a not-for-profit institution and its board of trustees has no rights of ownership over the school.

A university is a kind of public good, not the private property of any family. This is precisely why the ministry has given universities subsidies for books, equipment and physical and intangible facilities, regardless of whether they are public or private.

If we are going to put the theory of university autonomy into practice in private universities, which are public goods, democratic and transparent procedures for selecting university presidents must be one precondition for doing so.

KMU, where I have been working for 20 years, can serve as an example.

The school was founded as Kaohsiung Medical College by Tu Tsung-ming (杜聰明), the first Taiwanese to ever be awarded a doctorate of medical sciences.

However, through political manipulation, businessman and former Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chi-chuan (陳啟川), who died in 1993, and his relatives and friends have perpetually occupied seats on the board of trustees.

The Chen family has throughout the years regarded KMU as its private property.

Aside from altering the facts about who founded the university, they have interfered in the school’s administrative and personnel affairs, its teaching hospital procurement, building and engineering projects, purchasing of equipment and so on, all of which seriously contravene Article 50 of the Private School Act (私立學校法).

Although the school has been repeatedly penalized by the ministry and the Control Yuan has proposed corrective measures, its board of trustees has gone on in the same manner.

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