Responding to questions about an e-mail from the Ministry of Education which expressed “concern” about student protesters last week, Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) yesterday promised to ask universities not to pursue investigations into student protesters and advised them to reconsider regulations that call for punishments for students who participate in social movements.
Students held two protests about media monopolization last week — at the Executive Yuan from Monday evening to Tuesday morning, and at the Fair Trade Commission and Legislative Yuan on Thursday.
Legislators revealed on Friday that universities received an e-mail from the ministry on Thursday afternoon, asking them to “show concern” about and investigate the protesting students.
The e-mail, sent by the ministry’s Student Affairs Committee, alarmed many, who saw it as authoritarian.
At the legislature yesterday, Chiang said he had several times expressed his concern for students protesting in bad weather during a meeting of heads of the ministry on Tuesday, but the e-mail was not sent until after the protests had ended.
“I have not the slightest intention of monitoring students,” he said, adding that he felt sad that his “good” and “heartfelt” intentions had been misconstrued.
“With empathy toward the students ... the ministry will review the methods of expressing concern, to avoid putting pressure on them in future,” he said.
While legislators across party lines asked Chiang to apologize for the e-mail, he repeatedly said the ministry would engage in “profound reflection.”
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Ho Hsin-chun (何欣純) said the school regulations of 22 of the 37 universities included in the e-mail still included punishments for students who hold assemblies and protests, adding that the ministry should have showed concern by eliminating such rules.
DPP Legislator Tuan Yi-kang (段宜康) said that Chiang should at least apologize for the ministry’s inability to show real concern for students, even if he would not for its misguided wish to monitor them.
“We think the ministry’s words of concern are hypocritical,” said Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), convener of the Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters and a National Taiwan University graduate student, adding that the minister could have approached the students when they were protesting in poor weather, or called the premier to tell him about the students’ demands.
“Minister, I think you are full of lies, a hypocrite and a minister that does not know repentance. I don’t think you are qualified to be a minister. Please apologize to us,” said another convener of the alliance, Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), a student at National Tsing Hua University.
Chen said he did not believe Chiang’s comments that he would have approached the students if the protests had been about education, because he had refused to meet students at several recent demonstrations at the Ministry of Education and had even deployed riot police.
After the meeting, Chiang said: “In this case, I initially only wanted to show concern for the students, but as the case developed, it has impacted on the students and the general public. For this, I think I must express an apology out of empathy.”
He agreed to inform the schools to review their regulations within a week.