In a society plagued by political infighting and corporations focused on making a profit, university presidents must possess the courage to be outspoken to set an example for future leaders, Mingdao University principal Chen Shih-shiung (陳世雄) said.
Chen made the remarks during a group discussion at this year’s National Conference of University and College Presidents, which was held at Kun Shan University in Greater Tainan on Thursday and Friday and was attended by a total of 175 college principals.
“University presidents must lead by example and have the courage to be critical of current affairs, because only by doing so can we cultivate future leaders and bring hope to this society,” Chen said.
Chen also quoted Shih Hsin University president Lai Ting-Ming (賴鼎銘), who drew a parallel at last year’s conference between university presidents and Kuotzuchien Chichiu (國子監祭酒) of the Ming Dynasty, who served as the head of the highest administrative unit responsible for all important educational and academic affairs during the period.
“We all aspire to nurture talented students who are capable of independent and critical thinking, but do we ourselves have the same abilities?” Chen said, adding that principals in both public and private universities were often too scared of upsetting the Ministry of Education or the schools’ boards of trustees to voice their opinions.
Chen also expressed regret that few college principals had spoken out against corporations that have polluted the nation in the pursuit of greater profits or “the corruption-crippled government that had proved itself incapable of governing.”
“University presidents are not just a group of intellectuals, they are also obligated to preserve the land for future generations and ensure that they can live in an environment with clean air, water and soil,” Chen said.
However, none of them uttered a word when Advanced Semiconductor Engineering Inc was found releasing toxic wastewater into a river last month and when reports of the pollutant emissions from Formosa Plastics Group’s naphtha cracker in Yunlin County first emerged years ago, Chen said.
Chen said a colleague even cautioned him to be “discreet in word and deed” after he voiced his opposition to a defamation lawsuit filed by Formosa Plastics Group against National Chung Hsing University professor Tsuang Ben-jei (莊秉潔) in April 2012 for his remarks at an environmental impact assessment committee meeting in November 2011.
Tsuang said at the meeting that the exhaust gas emitted by the plant contained hazardous heavy metals and carcinogenic substances and could result in a higher cancer occurrence rate for nearby residents.
The Taipei District Court ruled in favor of Tsuang on Sept. 4 last year.
Citing a famous quote by US civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr, Chen said: “The greatest tragedy of this period of social transition is not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
“College principals are good people, but sadly we all choose to keep our mouths shut,” Chen added.
Seconding Chen’s views, National Taiwan University principal Yang Pan-chyr (楊泮池) said it was a shared responsibility between everyone living in Taiwan to speak up for the sake of the nation.
Da Yeh University principal Wu Dong-sing (武東星) said Chen was someone with a strong sense of justice and that he had made similar remarks on multiple occasions in an effort to prompt more college presidents to speak their minds and pay attention to social affairs.