After a recent e-mail from the Ministry of Education to school administrations asking them to show “concern” for student protesters caused a public uproar, a student rights advocacy group yesterday called on the ministry to show its support for student movements through policies, not e-mail.
“While the ministry called on school administrations to show ‘concern’ to students taking part in protests through an e-mail, the reality is that the ministry has not shown any true concern for the students; instead, it is allowing some universities to repress student movements,” Chang Fu-shun (張復舜), a medical student at Chang Gung University (CGU) and a spokesperson for the Student Rights Team, said through a press statement.
“We believe the ministry was motivated to send the e-mail by the fear of being held responsible by students’ parents and an authoritarian mentality,” Chang said.
Chang said the ministry is afraid that it may become the target of criticism from parents who do not support their children’s participation in student movements.
As such, it wanted written proof that it is paying close attention to what students are doing.
On the other hand, in the context of student movements, the term “concern” is often associated with threats and attempts by schools to bar students from taking part in demonstrations.
“For example, some universities would impose stricter curfews in student dorms because they are ‘concerned’ about students’ safety at night. CGU cuts the Internet connection at dorms at midnight because the school administration is ‘concerned’ that students may stay up all night playing online games,” Chang said. “Moreover, school officials or on-campus military education officers talk to students when student newspapers publish articles critical of school or government policies, saying they only want to show their ‘concern.’”
The term “showing concern” has always had a negative connotation among students, he said.
Chang said that while the ministry says it encourages student participation in public affairs, it has declined to intervene when universities ban students from taking part in or initiating demonstrations.
“Written rules in more than 70 of the 149 universities in the country — including National Cheng Kung University, National Taiwan University of Arts, the Taipei National University of the Arts and the Asia University — ban their students from taking part in demonstrations,” he said.
“When we petitioned the ministry asking them to intervene, officials said they had to respect the autonomy of universities,” Chang said.
“If ministry officials are truly concerned about students, they should show their concern through actual policy,” Chang said.
In response to the ministry’s e-mail, a number of students are coordinating a campaign to bombard the ministry with phone calls, saying “I am fine, thanks for your concern.”
Separately yesterday, Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) commented on the public uproar, saying he was saddened that the ministry’s good intentions had been twisted, adding that the ministry would think about how to show its good will in a better way.
Responding to a question about why he did not appear at the demonstrations to support students, Chiang said he was afraid that his appearance would create unnecessary problems, but added that he was fully supportive of students taking part in public affairs.
Additional reporting by Rachel Lin