The Supreme Court yesterday ruled that professors at public universities are not civil servants, in a case that could affect more than 100 similar cases nationwide.
The Supreme Court sent the case of Lin Tsao-jen (林昭任) — a professor at National Chung Cheng University who received a five-year sentence for moving a National Science Council (NSC) subsidy for equipment into his personal account — back to the High Court’s Tainan Branch.
Lin should not be considered a civil servant and his case should not be covered by the Government Procurement Act (政府採購法), the court said.
The controversy over academic corruption snowballed after a dozen professors were indicted by the Changhua District Prosecutors’ Office earlier this year and more than 100 professors were indicted by district offices on graft charges.
They were accused of misusing receipts for research material or equipment to falsely obtain reimbursements, moving money into personal accounts or purchasing materials not relevant to their research.
The NSC, Ministry of Education, academics and several politicians expressed concern over the prosecutions, saying they would damage morale in universities and give the false impression that Taiwanese academia is corrupt.
However, the Special Investigation Division of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office said professors who received government subsidies for academic research should be treated as civil servants.
Some have argued that professors working for public universities should be charged with corruption and those at private universities charged with fraud.
Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧), NSC Minister Cyrus Chu (朱敬一) and Academia Sinica President Wong Chi-huey (翁啟惠) issued a joint statement in January supporting professors and calling for prosecutors not to pursue the graft charges.
Former Democratic Progressive Party chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said charging the professors with corruption would “undermine freedom in the academic and research world.”