A response by National Taiwan Normal University’s dean of student affairs to a letter recently penned and publicized by a student sparked an uproar among students, who called it suppression of freedom of speech.
Hsieh Yi-cheng (謝易澄), an undergraduate student at the university’s department of civic education and leadership, and president of the Humanity Club, in April submitted a letter to the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) in which she criticized the dean, Lin Shu-cheng (林淑真), for rejecting four proposals by students outright, without following democratic procedure.
Lin’s rejection of the four proposals was first made public on April 19 by the school’s students’ association president Hsieh Hui-ting (謝慧霆) on the association’s Facebook page.
Hsieh Yi-cheng said that a few days after her letter was published on the newspaper’s opinion page, she was called in to a meeting with Lin. During the meeting, Lin reprimanded her and was quoted by Hsieh Yi-cheng as repeatedly using phrases like “illogical,” “irrational,” “very awful,” “worried about your future” and “what have you been learning in your civic education major?”
Hsieh Yi-cheng said Lin even asked her to apologize in public because the letter was “an act of libel and aggravated libel that has damaged the dean’s reputation.”
Hsieh Hui-ting said Lin had also asked to talk with her on the day the letter was published and “kept on scolding me” for posting her [Lin’s] reply on the Internet, as well as saying: “Don’t think you can use media influence to make me compromise. I will not compromise. Are you trying to become famous because you’re about to retire as the student association president?”
In response, Lin, currently in Japan, said through her secretary in a statement that she asked the students to talk with her only because she wanted to exchange opinions with them about the contents of the letter, explain why the proposals were not put on the agenda, and to remind them to be more precise and sensitive when using technology and the media to publish messages.
She said student affairs are open to the public, but that submitting a letter to a newspaper based on an announcement made on the Internet, without backing up allegations with evidence, is not appropriate.
National Taiwan Normal University Chief Secretary Lin An-pan (林安邦) confirmed that Lin Shu-cheng did ask the students to meet with her and that Hsieh Yi-cheng had called the department chair to say that Lin Shu-cheng was very upset when they met.
Students are allowed to express their own opinions, while differences between teachers’ and students’ opinions should be resolved through negotiations, he said, adding that the university’s president has instructed that no student should be harmed by this matter.
Two of the students’ four proposals were later approved in a meeting held on April 24, which some teachers attended to support the students, according to Hsieh Hui-ting.
However, she added that if students who are concerned about student affairs were to be reprimanded or called in for talks with the administration, it would have a negative effect on the students.