Thu, Feb 13, 2020 - Page 8 News List

Include students in university decisions

By Chiu Cheng-liang 邱正量

National Taipei University held a competition to name a new student dormitory on campus, with students and staff members enthusiastically putting forward a variety of creative names, such as the winner Shizaihalou (是在哈樓, It’s at Halou) and Fenggoudong (瘋狗棟, Rabid Dog Building), the third-placed entry.

The competition ended last week and organizers selected the second-placed entry, Chenxilou (辰曦樓, Dawn Sunlight Building), to be the dormitory’s official name.

Online commenters immediately began to grumble, questioning why the second-placed entry was selected ahead of “It’s at Halou,” which garnered the most votes.

What was likely the rationale behind the organizers’ decision?

First, the competition rules clearly stated that management at the university would select one of the top three entries.

Second, the university’s three previously built dormitories were named Xiaori (曉日, Early Morning Sun), Haoyue, (皓月, Bright Moon) and Fanxing (繁星, Starry Sky).

Calling the new dormitory “Dawn Sunlight Building” created a harmonious quartet of celestial-named dormitory buildings.

Piecing together the second character of each of the existing dormitory names with the first character of the new dormitory name — ri (日, sun), yue (月, moon), xing (星, star) and chen (辰, fifth earthly branch) — creates the elegant phrase: ri yue xing chen (日月星辰), which can be translated into English as “the sun, the moon and the stars,” or “heavenly bodies.”

It is understandable why the university’s board selected this name over the other two.

Dormitory names at most Taiwanese universities are chosen by members of the administration. The buildings are typically given nondescript names such as “No. 1 Male Dormitory” or “No. 2 Female Dormitory.”

Taking this into consideration, Dawn Sunlight Building is not such a bad name. Moreover, the decision to choose the second-placed name did not keep those who created the winning entry from pocketing their prize money.

Instead, the controversy centers on the decisionmaking process. That the decision was unilaterally made by the university’s board has left many of the school’s students feeling somewhat angry.

There is a simple solution to this problem: Every university has a dormitory committee comprised of students, members of the administration and faculty representatives. The final decision regarding a new dormitory’s name should be rendered by this committee that includes all of the stakeholders.

This would allow the school to accommodate a broader range of perspectives and dispel any accusations of an autocratic decisionmaking process.

At universities where students enjoy a high degree of autonomy, the whole process could be organized by a self-governing student union.

Many people worry that such a system would result in the selection of joke names, but the opposite is true. It is precisely because of the extra oversight that students support funny names.

In a democratic society, it is vital that people take responsibility for their decisions and universities are the ideal forum for cultivating this self-discipline.

In the future, may every school in Taiwan include a higher degree of student input in their decisionmaking.

Chiu Cheng-liang is president of the student union at National Taiwan Ocean University.

Translated by Edward Jones

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