Amid the snowballing scandal engulfing many higher education institutes that have allegedly signed agreements with their Chinese counterparts pledging that classes offered to Chinese students would not touch upon “politically sensitive” issues, all implicated schools on the Ministry of Education’s investigation list ought to be ashamed of themselves for compromising academic freedom for monetary gain.
According to the ministry, Saturday’s preliminary probe suggested at least half of the 157 investigated universities nationwide have signed such agreements with Chinese institutions promising not to mention issues relating to “one China,” “one China, one Taiwan” or Taiwanese independence in class. At National Tsing Hua University, the world “national” was even missing from the school’s title on the so-called “letter of commitment.”
China makes no secret of its ambition to annex Taiwan. It therefore comes as no surprise that it would resort to such trickery as part of its “united front” tactics; what is dumbfounding is that many Taiwanese universities have willingly complied with China’s demands, allowing an autocratic regime — or anyone for that matter — to hamper the spirit of academic professionalism and obstruct schools’ autonomy.
Coming to the schools’ defense, Association of Private Universities and Colleges president Lee Tien-rein (李天任) said the “letter of commitment” does not recognize China’s “one China” principle, but is mainly to help Chinese students more quickly pass review procedures in China, and the signed documents do not have an actual influence on schools’ academic freedom.
That might be the case, but then do Lee’s remarks suggest that the schools, aside from allowing their academic freedom to be trampled, also engage in dishonest actions by attempting to deceive Chinese reviewing agencies? “Pathetic” is an understatement in describing the depth of degeneration to which some of the schools have allowed themselves to sink.
Others, such as National Tsing Hua University, insist the letter merely makes sure politics stays off campus. However, people supporting such an argument should first ask themselves: How is removing the word “national” from National Tsing Hua University’s full name not political? The truth is, removing the word is not only political, but also a self-degrading act.
A university is supposedly an open forum for young minds to explore truth, share ideas and exchange opinions, and academic freedom is the foundation for its existence. That is what sets Taiwanese schools apart from their counterparts in China.
In light of the scandal, it must be asked: How could schools in Taiwan have become so degenerate? How can self-censoring universities without academic freedom be expected to maintain their global competitive edge?
It must also be remembered that it takes two sides to sign an agreement. If the schools have the guts to value the preservation of academic freedom rather than catering to China’s terms, schools should instead demand a guarantee of academic freedom in their exchanges with Chinese academic institutions.
These Taiwanese schools caved in to China’s demands and allowed a communist country to humiliate democratic Taiwan’s sacred halls of education.
Hopefully the incident, however uncomfortable the truth it exposed — that some schools are willing to trade academic integrity for monetary gain — might serve as a wake-up call and remind educators and students alike that academic freedom is not for sale.
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