Sat, Sep 23, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Academics debate merits of affirmative action policy

By Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Experts disagreed over the merits of the affirmative action program for Aborigines and their right to self-determination at a symposium organized by the Chinese Association of Human Rights yesterday.

James Hsueh, (薛承泰), a professor of Sociology at National Taiwan University and director of the Taipei City Government's Department of Social Welfare, questioned whether the government's affirmative action program was the best means of assisting Aboriginal students.

"There are two different kinds of marginalization. There is economic marginalization and then there is the other kind," he said.

"I grew up economically marginalized, but I never thought of myself as being truly marginalized. We students from Kinmen never mentioned our backgrounds. It helped us overcome our marginalized status," Hsueh said.

Hsueh suggested that his underprivileged upbringing in Kinmen shared commonalities with the Aboriginal experience.

"When you control for economic background and regional factors, the achievement gap between aborigines and Han chinese people is not that great. Whether or not the affirmative action measures should be expanded or allowed to remain is a subject that is worthy of discussion," said Hsieh, adding that he was speaking in his capacity as an academic.

Liao Yuan-hao (廖元豪), adjunct law professor at Chengchi University, took a different view.

"Surely, when a society makes a minority ashamed to mention their identity, the fault lies with the society, rather than the minority," Liao said.

"It's true that self-reliance is important, but the mainstream view that all Aborigines need to do is to shut up and buck up is a one-sided view of the issue," he said.

"We've come a long way since the days of calling them `mountain compatriots' [shanbao 山胞], but the government hesitates to act whenever doing so goes against mainstream opinion," he said.

"They're wiling to set up foundations for Aborigines, but they won't fully enforce the anti-discrimination laws that are on the books. I've been told that discrimination is a cultural matter and that you can't legislate culture. But law is a part of our culture. If it were not for the civil rights movement in the 1960s, black people would still be called `niggers' in America," Liao said.

Lu Ya-li (呂亞力), a professor of political science at National Taiwan University, spoke dismissively of the idea of self-determination for Aborigines, calling it "a quixotic idea, something politicians promised to gain votes and now cannot deliver."

However, Yang Jen-huang (楊仁熿), an Amis Aboriginal who is a professor of law at National Yunlin University of Science and Technology, disagreed.

"Before colonization, Aborigines organized themselves into tribes of no more than 5,000. We are perfectly capable of regulating ourselves. We will never achieve any meaningful progress until we are allowed to do so," he said.

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