Tue, Jul 28, 2015 - Page 4 News List

University teachers protest ‘arbitrary’ layoffs

By Abraham Gerber  /  Staff reporter

The Ministry of Education should stop passively approving applications from universities to fire teachers, members of the Taiwan Higher Education Union said yesterday, calling for proactive consideration and investigation into teachers’ charges of administrative misconduct.

About 20 union representatives stood outside the gates of the ministry building to demonstrate against its handling of layoffs caused by falling student numbers.

“[The ministry] has totally failed to consider the views of teachers [during the approval process],” National Chengchi University law professor Lin Chia-ho (林佳和) said. “It just goes through a checklist to see if the universities have submitted all the necessary paperwork.”

The ministry’s “check the boxes” approach has led to administrative abuses by universities, with a teacher’s attendance at a meeting considered adequate evidence that their opinions had been taken into consideration during the layoff process, he said.

“Many teachers have been fired for unreasonable reasons,” he said. “The ministry’s position has been that it does not need to review the reason so long as the teachers were present [at internal university meetings], but that is not the point — the point is that teachers should have the right to defend themselves against any reasons cited for their dismissal.”

Protesters alleged university manipulation of the “grading” system for instructor performance to guarantee a certain number of instructors are forced out.

Performance standards are arbitrarily adjusted at short notice, giving universities discretion over who fails and should be fired, protesters said.

A Taipei College of Maritime Technology professor surnamed Chen (陳) said that due to last-minute changes to last year’s grading system more than 70 percent of the university’s professors “failed,” forcing the school to take extraordinary measures to adjust grades to cut the number of professors fired.

While the university has refused to release information on how the grades were adjusted, different levels of “extra credit” points arbitrarily assigned by the university president appeared on many professors’ grade sheets, he said.

Union representatives also protested against the ministry’s allowing universities to include sections on student recruitment targets and corporate fundraising in teacher evaluations.

“Because universities are under a lot of pressure with many facing bankruptcy, they think they can corral their ‘human resources’ into helping them solve their financial problems,” National Taiwan University of Science and Technology electronic engineering professor Chen Chih-hsiao (陳致曉) said.

The short length of the window teachers are allowed before they are subjected to tenure review, alongside the need to raise research money and patent licensing fees has turned academics into “slave labor” and the “tools” of corporations, making it impossible for them to pursue their long-term research goals, he said.

In response, the ministry’s vocational education division deputy head Jao Pang-an (饒邦安) said the ministry allows laid-off teachers to present their cases to the ministry’s review panel, temporarily halting the process until the opinions of affected instructors can be taken into consideration.

Universities have a right to add criteria other than research and teaching to their own grading standards for teachers under the University Act (大學法), he said.

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