Kuan case: Time to review funding

By Chen Ping-hsun 陳秉訓  / 

Sat, May 12, 2018 - Page 8

The curtain finally fell on the procedural scandal regarding the National Taiwan University (NTU) presidential election, with the Ministry of Education announcing that it would not approve the appointment of Kuan Chung-ming (管中閔). However, the flaws surrounding the election process have not been thoroughly reviewed.

One issue that needs to be discussed is how Kuan, despite being a chair professor at the university and enjoying substantial research resources and a large salary, has served concurrently as an independent board director outside of the campus.

Information on the university’s Web site shows that a chair professor serves a term of three years and is provided with a research grant to promote in-depth research.

According to the ministry’s Web site, Kuan was also awarded the 21st national chair professorship and is receiving an annual subsidy of NT$1 million (US$33,587) — NT$500,000 for the professorship and NT$500,000 for research — for three years for a total of NT$3 million.

So Kuan simultaneously holds two chair professorships recognized by the school and the ministry respectively. His annual income has surpassed that of other professors of the same ranking.

Kuan, with his generous resources, should focus on his academic research and teaching duties, but based on what Kuan lists on his personal Web site, he did not publish anything while serving at the university in 2016 and last year.

His most recent publication is a paper coauthored with Chen Chien-liang (陳建良), professor of economics at National Chi Nan University, for a conference that was deemed to be of a “more informal” nature by Academia Sinica and NTU, which jointly organized the event. Even more surprising is that there have been allegations of plagiarism regarding that paper.

Kuan’s doubling as chair professor and independent board director highlights the lack of an auditing mechanism for overseeing the academic autonomy of national universities. Chair professors enjoy a unique salary and a privileged research environment, and they should focus on their research and teaching duties. They should also produce a certain amount academic results.

A recipient of funds that cares little about academic activities is wasting the resources the school is investing in them, and when the government gives them funds, such as the NT$1 million subsidies given to a chair professor, it is misusing its budget.

The ministry should use Kuan’s case as an opportunity to review chair professorships in national universities and set up a proper review mechanism in order to allocate resources to those who show enthusiasm and sincerity in their academic research.

The media have reported that an independent director on the board of Taiwan Mobile Co receives NT$5 million to NT$10 million annually, and that remuneration comes with certain responsibilities. Surely Kuan must have devoted himself to these tasks, which in turn would affect his capacity to conduct academic research?

Kuan’s involvement in Taiwan Mobile’s operations unfortunately cannot be easily converted to academic research, as the information and data he comes in contact with is likely classified as trade secrets.

Moreover, the confidential nature of trade secrets would stop Kuan from sharing his experience as an independent board director with his students.

The ministry should initiate a large-scale investigation into how serving as an independent board director is beneficial to the normal duties of a university professor and issue reasonable rules and regulations.

Finally, the government has limited resources and when allocating them priority should be given to those who take academic activities seriously.

I have not received a research grant from the Ministry of Science and Technology for the past three years, and have therefore had to focus even more on academic research to make up for this shortcoming.

Seeing Kuan receive such a large share of research resources from my old school and even being elected as NTU president while making very little academic contribution to the school leaves one feeling relatively deprived.

The ministry should use this case to review subsidy-related regulations and put its resources to better use.

Chen Ping-hsun is an assistant professor at National Chengchi University’s Graduate Institute of Technology, Innovation and Intellectual Property Management.

Translated by Chang Ho-ming