Mon, Feb 05, 2018 - Page 3 News List

Reporter’s Notebook: NTU election lays bare problems in academia

By Ann Maxon  /  Staff reporter

Less than a month after National Taiwan University (NTU) professor Kuan Chung-ming (管中閔) was selected as the university’s president, controversy over his eligibility appears to have snowballed into a war over university autonomy, academic ethics and the right to support unification with China.

The shocking division of opinions is in part due to the university’s failure to provide satisfactory answers to questions about Kuan’s integrity raised both within and outside the school. To this day, the university’s presidential election committee has done little to investigate Kuan’s alleged conflict of interest and allegations of plagiarism. This has allowed different groups to interpret the situation to their advantage.

Kuan’s critics have argued that the university president-elect failed to disclose his post as an independent director at Taiwan Mobile, which could have posed a conflict of interest, as company vice chairman Richard Tsai (蔡明興) is a member of the selection committee.

Some even said that Kuan might have agreed to a quid pro quo with Tsai.

The primary function of independent directors is to act as a watchdog overseeing companies’ financial reports. In theory, the greatest favor an independent director could do a company executive is turning a blind eye to the company’s failure to comply with regulations. However, it is unclear how much influence independent directors really hold and how effective they are as watchdogs.

The university has insisted that it cannot determine whether there was conflict of interests due to lack of evidence.

As the selection happened by anonymous vote, there is no way to establish whether Tsai voted for Kuan, the university said, adding that Kuan in May last year obtained the university’s approval to serve as an independent director at Taiwan Mobile.

While Kuan’s supporters sided with the school and dismissed allegations of a conflict of interests as exaggerations, his opponents stressed that controversy could have been avoided had Kuan voluntarily informed the committee about his position at Taiwan Mobile.

However, perhaps more controversial than Kuan’s alleged conflict of interest are allegations of plagiarism.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chang Liao Wan-chien (張廖萬堅) on Jan. 24 said that a conference paper coauthored by Kuan and National Chi Nan University professor Chen Chien-liang (陳建良) published last year contained 15 uncited sentences and charts that are highly similar to those in a master’s thesis written by a student of Chen and published in 2016.

Instead of looking into the allegations, the university on Jan. 26 said that there was no need to formally investigate the issue, as Kuan’s conference paper was merely a work in progress and the conference at which it was presented, which was jointly organized by Academia Sinica and NTU, was of a “more informal” nature.

The statement was accepted by a majority of media outlets, who said the allegations were false, and it widened the division between Kuan’s supporters and opponents.

Many of his supporters described the allegation as an attempt by the DPP to “persecute” supporters of the pan-blue camp.

Kuan in 2015 publicly supported former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu’s (洪秀柱) bid for president and some consider him a radical advocate of unification with China.

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