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Tue, Sep 12, 2000 - Page 4 News List

Universities debate campus election system

BY DEGREES Changes in the law to promote democratic procedures in universities and to allow faculty members and students to choose their own president have been slow and muddled and have not been a success, some professors claim

By Lin Mei-chun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Universities are usually perceived as ivory towers free of politics, but the uproar surrounding presidential elections at National Chunghsing University (中興大學) has shattered that illusion.

A dispute has been simmering for weeks over the appointment of Peng Tso-kwei (彭作奎), who is facing charges of plagiarism, and has stirred debate about election procedures at universities.

As Taiwan's democracy matures, professors and students have been appealing for democratic reform at the nation's institutions of higher learning.

While Taiwan was under martial law, university presidents were appointed by the central government so that a tight rein could be kept on academics.

It was not until 1994 that university presidents were elected by school faculties in accordance with changes to the University Law. For years scholars had argued that universities should be autonomous and governed by professors.

Occasionally, however, the well-intended law showed its shortcomings. According to Article 6 of the University Law, it states a university's search committee should hold a first round of elections to recommend two or three candidates to the Ministry of Education.

Selection process

From those candidates a new president is chosen by a committee of five to nine members at the education ministry.

Controversy has arisen over election procedures at the schools and the composition of the committee formed by the education ministry. Some scholars are convinced that the Ministry of Education should not have a final say in the choice of university president.

The initial election of a university president varies widely from school to school. Two systems are generally employed: The first method is election by popular vote by all full-time faculty members; the second is electoral voting, where a search committee is in charge of selection of the candidate.

Individuals in favor of a popular vote say that it is the best way of representing popular opinion.

"Only we professors know what's best for our school. The education ministry should respect the choice of professors by approving the candidate who gains the most ballots [in a popular vote]," said Wu Ming-ming (吳明敏), who is a professor in the department of agricultural marketing at Chunghsing.

However, most professors interviewed by the Taipei Times said they had reservations about popular voting as it caused instability and fighting among factions.

Vote-buying

"Professors are not different from ordinary people. All the drawbacks of elections such as vote-buying or blackmail are frequently heard of during elections at school," said Chen Tung-sheng (陳東升), chairman of the sociology department at National Taiwan University.

Wu Yen-hua (吳妍華), acting president of National Yang Ming University (陽明大學), backed Chen's view, adding that it was impossible to avoid factional conflicts during elections.

"What does the highest vote count mean? The perils of populism should not be brought onto the campus," warned Peng Yun (彭芸), a professor at the Journalism Department of National Chengchi University (政治大學) -- a school that has adopted the popular vote system."Elections mean soliciting for votes, which is absolutely tied up with compromises between candidates and voters. The president's status tends to be undermined [by this system].

"In addition, the election process is too time-consuming, with preparation requiring nearly half a year," Peng said. "During this period the campus is in disarray and teachers cannot concentrate on teaching. It's a real burden," Peng said.

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