NTU professors protest firing of peer in Beijing

LESSON IN DEMOCRACY::The teachers have started a signature drive to demand Peking University reinstate a professor, whose removal they say was due to politics

By Jake Chung  /  Staff writer, with CNA

Wed, Oct 23, 2013 - Page 3

Several National Taiwan University (NTU) professors yesterday spoke out against Peking University’s decision to dismiss a professor in its economics department, Xia Yeliang (夏業良), saying that the move was made to curry political favor and was an oppression of academic freedom.

Although Peking University has said it dismissed Xia because he was given a negative teaching evaluation, the NTU professors said official statements made by the Chinese school indicated that it had bowed to political pressure.

In the statements, Peking University said Xia had made remarks that constituted a “malignant attack on the socialist system [endorsed] by the [Chinese Communist] Party and the state, mocking and distorting the Chinese dream,” the NTU group said.

Law professor Chen Chao-ju (陳昭如) said a signature drive started by the group in support of Xia was endorsed by more than 30 professors from the university in its first two days, adding that they would be opening the petition to everyone in the school in the hope that more people will join the cause.

A university is a place where one seeks the truth and is free to speak their mind, and academic freedom is the foundation on which the existence of these institutions rest, the professors said, adding that using politics to oppress academic freedom not only hinders the pursuit of truth, but also destroys a university’s spiritual foundation.

Peking University’s actions put into doubt whether it is eligible to be called a university anymore, the NTU professors added.

Professor Yen Chueh-an (顏厥安) said Xia was not only an outstanding academic in the field of economics, he was also one of the first signatories to the Charter 08 — a manifesto published on Dec. 10, 2008, calling for China to carry out democratic reforms —because of his overarching concern over the country’s political system.

Peking University’s action is an example of how politics can be used to oppress academic liberties, Yen said, adding that NTU rallied to support Xia because it had also withstood similar oppression.

Yen’s comments refer to the April 6 Incident in 1949, when the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government arrested students en masse under suspicion that the student body, comprised in majority by people enrolled at NTU and National Taiwan Normal University, had been infiltrated by communists.

Aside from calling on Peking University to restore Xia to his original post and guarantee academic freedom, NTU Graduate Institute of National Development professor Liu Ching-yi (劉靜怡) also called on NTU president Yang Pan-chyr (楊泮池) to contact his counterpart in Beijing to urge the school to guarantee academic freedom.

Yang should also add to the memorandum of understanding signed between the two schools in 2010 to cement the inviolate status of academic and spiritual freedoms, Liu said.

When reached for comment, NTU Secretary-General Lin Ta-te (林達德) said the school fully supports human rights and democracy, and respects the dynamism of its professors’ opinions, but said it was not at liberty to comment on the Xia incident.