[ LETTER ]

Tue, Sep 11, 2018 - Page 8

Anger at academia

You think only academics in China or Hong Kong face the axe because they have become inconvenient(“US academic leaving China after fired from university,” July 19, page 8 and “Hong Kong academics become targets in ‘political battleground’ at colleges,” July 25, page 6)? Think again.

I have just been effectively fired from my Taiwanese university because I dared to have a different opinion than my bosses and expressed it to their faces. Even though I fulfilled all the requirements for my job most satisfactorily, they conspired to lie about my performance and effectively forced me to leave. For obvious reasons, I cannot go into details here because of further future possible recriminations from these vengeful and despicable people.

The important point to make is that, although Taiwan is nominally now a democracy, the obedient, top-down Chinese culture and the Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) dictatorship and its authoritarian structures are still well embedded in many people’s minds, as well as Taiwanese institutions, especially among more conservative people and institutions.

And unfortunately, I was stuck in a rather conservative university, where the president and the deans have all the power, never ask for advice from their underlings, and make all the decisions among themselves while slapping their backs in self-congratulations and singing their own praises. And you better not oppose them, or criticize them, or make them feel like they lost face.

Apparently, for foreigners, the same rule as for Taiwanese women applies: “Do the work and keep your mouth shut” (“Boosting female participation at the local level,” Aug. 8, page 13). If, as a foreigner, you argue and criticize, then you get cold-shouldered and expunged.

Recently, another diplomat waxed lyrically about what a wonderful place Taiwan is: “I think my favorite is the nice, friendly and open-minded people here... I can hardly remember feeling at home and being welcomed as quickly as I was here in Taiwan” (“Taiwan crucial global partner: German envoy,” July 17, page 3). Well, of course, a diplomat has to say nice, superficial things, but it also shows that people who praise Taiwan’s people have not actually had to work directly under Taiwanese (“Unions blast China Air for employee retaliation,” Aug. 8, page 3). Because if they had, they would have experienced that a significant number of Taiwanese are arrogant, racist, self-righteous and vengeful, and are therefore no different or better than any other people in the world.

In this context, I found Chris Patten’s analysis of the Chinese — and thus also Taiwanese — mindset reaffirming (“Book review: Patten’s ‘confessions’,” July 26, page 14). He wrote that so-called “Asian values” is a mindset that brings with it a weak concern for human rights and accountability, and an emphasis instead on obedience to the family and the state. Spot on! Exactly what I experienced. Because I was not obedient to my superiors, they trampled all over my rights.

So far, I have found most of Taiwanese academia to be rather close-minded, insular, intolerant, provincial, and often far below the standard required to be internationally competitive. I also completely agree with Herbert Hanreich’s criticisms of Taiwan’s education system, which he repeatedly published in the Taipei Times.

The Ministry of Education seems clueless, partly because it never talks to foreign professors and, if criticized, probably also just withdraws in an angry huff instead of reflecting maturely on the criticism.

Of course, some foreign professors have good experiences here, but that does not invalidate my own personal abhorrent experiences.

Taiwan: If you want to attract foreign academics and build world-class universities, then what you are doing right now is completely counterproductive (“Higher-education quality seen as deteriorating: poll,” July 30, page 3). No wonder foreign professionals choose to come to Taiwan in low numbers (“Flow of talent unbalanced, report says,” July 31, page 3). From what I experienced, there is absolutely no support structure whatsoever for foreign professors, neither within my former university nor from the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Science and Technology, to help with finding grants, with Chinese-language bureaucracy, or with the many other little things that are much harder for a foreigner to negotiate in Taiwan’s academic landscape.

Not only do you need to pay both homegrown and foreign professors more money and give them better holiday and sabbatical options (“Fears of academic exodus unfounded: universities,” Sept. 7, page 4), but, more importantly, you need to build an efficient support structure for foreign professors so that they are supported when they need to apply for grants and have to deal with Taiwan’s bureaucracy. Also they need to be protected from unfair and even unlawful practices within Taiwan’s universities.

However, given that no government official listens to foreigners or reads the Taipei Times, even writing this editorial is probably a futile, pointless, and superfluous exercise. Which is a shame, for me, but mostly for Taiwan, a country of much potential, but also with too much baggage from its authoritarian past.

Personally, I am preparing to leave this country because I am simply fed up.

Name withheld