Fri, Jan 07, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Academic freedom under threat, educators caution

INTERVENTION A proposed amendment to beef up the government's say in the election of university principals would violate the institutions' independence, the NTA said

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Academic freedom in the nation's universities may be endangered if the proposed amendment to the University Law (大學法) comes into effect, the National Teachers' Asso-ciation (NTA) warned.

The association said that the proposed amendment to the University Law will become a tool for imposing the government's will at the expense of universities' autonomy. In the amendment proposed by the Ministry of Education, the number of government-appointed representatives in the committees that elect university principals will be increased to one-third of attending members, while the number of university representatives will be cut from one-half to one-third of the members.

"Once the amendment has been ratified and put into effect, the Ministry of Education can decide who will serve as the university principal. By doing so, the government can literally intervene in university affairs and determine the direction of universities' research and development," said Chien Ming-yun (簡明勇), a professor of Chinese literature at National Normal University, who chairs the association's Committee of Universities and Colleges.

The amendment also stipulates that department directors and university deans should be elected by a committee organized by a higher collegial institution.

"The rule violates the spirit of academic professionalism and minimizes our autonomy. Professors should be allowed to elect their own department director without any intervention from the top," said Lee Wei-I (李威儀), a professor of electrophysics at National Chiao Tung University.

According to the association, education officials rashly pushed forward the legislation and allowed little time for the education community to respond. On Dec. 1 last year, the Ministry of Education sent the draft to the Association of National Universities, which forwarded the document to all university principals on Dec. 6. It took another week for professors to gain access to the document, although the ministry put a Dec. 15 deadline on their responses.

"There were only three days in between. How can a university form a consensus regarding a significant policy change like this so quickly?" Chien asked.

The amendment has already passed its first reading. The second and third readings have been posted on the Legislative Yuan's agenda for further review. The National Teachers' Association called on legislators to block the amendment and return it to the Executive Yuan.

Anxious to preserve their autonomy from the central government, university professors said that they may take to the streets to protest "the abuse of power" if the amendment is ratified.

In response to the criticism, education officials said that the new rule is meant to reinforce principals' power.

According to a ministry news release, the current University Law allows electioneering and factional strife to thrive on campuses.

"The electioneering has seriously hindered university operation and tainted universities' image. The new method to elect principals and deans will empower them instead and reinforce the integration among academic branches," the news release stated.

"The revision of the University Law is part of ongoing reforms to modernize education institutions. It is not tyranny. The school representatives still ... have a say about the dean or department director candidates," said Lee De-hwa (李德華), director of the ministry's Department of Higher Education.

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