Soochow University yesterday failed to reach a consensus on a proposal to restrict its professors from appearing on political talk shows more than four times a month, the school’s spokeswoman said yesterday after an all-day meeting on the matter.
Talk of the restriction drew fire from the Government Information Office (GIO) as well as from pan-green legislators, who panned the school for impeding the pundits’ freedom of speech and expression.
“We constantly receive complaints from audiences that disagree with what the professors say,” said Lee Kuei-ying (李貴英), the university spokeswoman.
The proposed restriction, she asserted, was not meant to infringe upon the professors’ freedom of speech, but rather to ascertain whether the professors had sufficient time to concentrate on their academic duties.
Skeptics, however, have speculated the policy was meant to shield premier-designate Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄), who ended his tenure as university president yesterday, from criticism.
The policy was not politically oriented or geared toward a particular party, but based on the educational quality of the university, Lee said.
She added that the proposal was submitted to the school’s board last June and that Liu has tried to communicate with the professors several times in the months before he was appointed premier.
For example, she pointed out that assistant political science professor Hsu Yong-ming (徐永明) a frequent guest on pan-green shows, appeared on talkshows on average 103 out of 144 days, which translated to five days a week.
Hsu said he would seek a constitutional interpretation on the proposed policy.
University political science department head Luo Chih-cheng (羅致正) even has his own call-in talk show on pan-green television station Formosa Television.
Some staunch pan-blue supporters have threatened to stop making donations to the school if the professors continue to go on these shows, reports said.
Other schools such as Chinese Culture University and National Taipei University have affirmed that they will not interfere with their professors’ freedom to express their political beliefs on TV shows.
GIO Shieh Jhy-wey (謝志偉), speaking in his capacity as a staff member of Soochow University, yesterday said he disapproved of the proposal.
Shieh, who was a professor at the university’s German Department before entering politics as the country’s representative to Germany in 2005, will resume teaching at the school on Aug. 1.
“The proposal is inappropriate because appearing on TV political talk shows after work, just like writing articles, falls within the scope of personal freedom of speech,” Shieh said.
A professor is subject to criminal or civil responsibility if what he says on talk shows breaks the rules, Shieh said.
“It is understandable Soochow feels annoyed about this as most of its professors who appear on TV speak in favor of the pan-green camp, but what the school should be concerned about is whether those professors spread their ideology in classes and not on TV,” Shieh said.
Soochow has been characterized as a university that values the spirit of freedom, and which played an important role in the country’s democratization, said Shieh, calling on the university to drop the proposal.
Liu is famous for his decision to block Bureau of Investigation agents from entering National Tsing Hua University in 1991 to arrest four students whom the former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime said planned to organize a pro-independence group.
Liu was then the president of National Tsing Hua University.
“What Liu did then was worthy of praise, and he should know better than anyone that people have different opinions in a free and democratic society,” Shieh said.
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