Sat, Jul 03, 2004 - Page 8

Freedom an empty slogan?

Last Monday, in a speech on California's diversity and its impact on education, former California governor Gray Davis spoke of the fact that both of our societies are composed of diverse peoples, while California is so many years ahead of the rest of the US that it often sets trends for the rest of the nation ("Embrace immigrant history, technology: Davis of California," June 29, page 3).

As a Taiwanese American who graduated from the University of California (UC) system, I want to talk about the qualities of the UC system that I'm most proud of and explore whether Taiwan is able to keep up with California in functioning as a tolerant and diverse society.

The UC system exemplifies a tolerant and diverse society. As a student, I would often see slogans on campus proclaiming "Strength through diversity." The UC system is a place where people are free to express themselves in their form of dress -- or lack thereof -- during national elections and in the classroom. In 1993, a man went to class wearing nothing more than a bandana to protest tuition fee hikes. During presidential elections, students are allowed to show their support for a particular candidate on campus by posting flyers, parading campaign signs and handing out information pamphlets.

But it is not only outside the classroom where the campus community is free to express itself and where we respect different opinions, but in the classroom as well. The freedom for professors to express their ideology in the classroom has been codified in the UC system's Policy on Academic Freedom. This policy allows ideology in the classroom and exposes students to a wide spectrum of voices so that they can form their own opinions. It also requires instructors to display professionalism and to grade fairly and objectively. This is what makes me proud to be a UC graduate.

In the past semester, as a graduate student at National Taiwan University (NTU), I witnessed the backward academic policies of Taiwan. During the presidential election, I was not allowed to post a flyer on campus in support of a particular candidate. After the election, there were stories of how one NTU instructor insulted a particular presidential candidate during a break in an abusive manner, which created a tense environment for the students. This was clearly an ego trip which served no purpose other than to provoke.

Recently, we saw a student at Chang Gung University punished for running naked on campus. These events make me feel that the student's right to self-expression is not adequately protected and that there is a serious lack of respect for freedom of expression.

The freedom to express oneself and the responsibility to respect other people's opinions are the foundations of a tolerant and diverse society. They shouldn't operate as empty slogans to make Taiwan seem civilized and cosmopolitan. Our society must live up to the promise of freedom of expression guaranteed by our Constitution if we are to ask young people to take up arms to defend it. I hope that NTU will become a tolerant and diverse campus like the UC system.

Taiwan has a lot of catching up to do. I find so much wisdom in the old Chinese saying, "Those surrounded by good fortune don't realize it."

Alfred Tsai