Academics wasted in government

By Duh Bau-ruei 杜保瑞  / 

Tue, May 03, 2016 - Page 8

In the past, most of the ruling party’s government officials were academics, and the same was true of most critics in the opposition parties. This shows that in the nation’s social elite, there is a close relationship between academics and politicians, and the two groups are often indistinguishable from each other.

There are three primary reasons for this. It is an age-old tradition for those who excel in the academic world to advance to government positions; the constitution in a presidential system lacks the spirit of a parliamentary system and most politicians fail to perform their work in a professional manner.

Once these academics become part of the political world, they must apply their expertise in knowledge management to policymaking and human resource management, and this results in innumerable mistakes. The major reason for that is that moving from academia to politics is a giant leap from one domain to another.

To make policy and to criticize it are two different matters. Can academics criticize politics? Of course they can. Anyone can criticize politics. The key question is, do academics comment on matters on which they have academic expertise or do they merely express their political points of view?

If it is the former, they are applying their expertise and are commenting as intellectuals. No one can blame them for that. However, if they comment on matters outside of their expertise, they cross the line.

In the democratic era everyone has the freedom to voice their opinions, but we should express our personal political opinions as individuals in the political arena.

For instance, everyone can participate in demonstrations, sign petitions and vote, but it would be inappropriate for an academic to criticize politics in the classroom, especially when the issue being criticized is not what the class or the instructor’s expertise is about.

If they do that, it is a sign that they are doing more than teaching their class and that the school does not focus on education.

If teachers can criticize politics in the classroom, then doctors can discuss politics when they treat patients and prosecutors can get involved in politics while they are prosecuting people. Could a society such as this protect human rights? Could a nation such as this have a viable and accountable government?

One could say that the phenomenon of academics becoming politicians has arisen because politicians have failed to do their jobs adequately. Because of their inadequacies, even though they are popularly elected local government heads, city councilors or lawmakers, they are unable to make their way to a ministerial post in the central government, which is why academics begin to criticize politics and then become politicians themselves.

This is the result of decisions made by presidents. Using academics to fill key government positions is one method that presidents use to monopolize power. Since academics are not elected, they do the bidding of their superiors.

As a result, academics and politicians become indistinguishable. Academics do not concentrate on their academic and research work, but are busy forging an image to show how much they care about public affairs, commenting freely on politics to get the attention from the political world.

In particular, they use their professional image to serve a political agenda or their professional position to take action in public affairs in an attempt to profit individually. Consequently, the research atmosphere in academic circles has become messed up and the professional image of academics is destroyed.

In the long run, this could result in schools being filled with political academics and a government filled with unprofessional politicians.

In the past, sovereignty was enjoyed by kings and emperors, and while members of the general public could become government officials by passing examinations, they only had administrative powers.

Today, Taiwan is a democracy, so sovereignty rests with the people, and governing power is exercised by elected officials and representatives. Hence, these positions are best served by professional politicians.

On one hand, politicians would feel more encouraged to enhance their proficiency and create a more stable political climate. On the other hand, the purity of the academic world could be maintained and academics could focus on their academic work.

Academics can discuss politics and make professional suggestions, but they should not take on ministerial positions. Academics dedicate their lives to their professional knowledge, while politicians dedicate their lives to good government. All jobs are valuable. This is the path that a modern society should take.

Duh Bau-ruei is professor of philosophy at National Taiwan University.

Translated by Ethan Zhan