According to newspaper reports, the Ministry of Education has responded to a teacher-student romance — between a 34-year-old female professor, surnamed Lin (林), and a male graduate student — that occurred several years ago while Lin was still an associate professor serving as the student’s master’s thesis adviser at National Taipei University of Technology.
The ministry said the university’s lecturer evaluation committee has passed a resolution to issue a written warning to Lin for breaching her contract, and suspend subsidies for the department at which she teaches for one year.
The ministry also said that the case fell under the scope of the Gender Equity Education Act (性別平等教育法).
After media exposure, the university reported the case to its gender equity committee for investigation in accordance with the law, and the committee proposed an investigation report and made recommendations for punishment to the lecturer evaluation committee.
However, it seems that both the ministry and the school looked in the wrong direction in their handling of the case.
The Gender Equity Education Act mainly covers the prevention and handling of sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual bullying on campus.
According to media reports, Lin and the student were unmarried adults. If they truly fell in love with each other, why would their relationship involve sexual assault, harassment or bullying?
A source reported to the university that Lin offered the student more research resources, gave favorable comments during the oral defense session for his master’s thesis and even took him with her when traveling abroad on the university’s research funds, and accused her of failing to separate public and private matters.
The focus in this case should be on whether the professor breached educational ethics, and whether she should be held criminally responsible if she really applied for reimbursement on false grounds.
As such misconduct falls into the most basic regulation of the Teachers’ Act (教師法), the investigation should focus on these issues rather than on the teacher-student romance.
The university focused on the wrong issue and has kept the investigation report confidential by citing the Gender Equity Education Act, as if it were a case of sexual assault, harassment or bullying.
The ministry has failed to look into the accusations made against the professor regarding her allocation of resources, facilitating the student’s thesis defense and misappropriating research funds.
Will the ministry be able to build public trust by issuing a news release calling the issue a contravention of the Gender Equity Education Act and saying that the school handled it properly in accordance with the law? In addition, the university is a public institution whose budget is fully financed by taxpayers, so the public has a right to know.
The ministry and the university took the wrong path due to flaws in the law. Article 20 of the Gender Equity Education Act states: “The central competent authority shall formulate regulations governing the prevention and handling of sexual assault, sexual harassment, or sexual bullying incidents on campuses. These regulations shall encompass campus safety plans, directions regarding on-campus and off-campus instruction and interpersonal interaction, and mechanisms, and procedures for handling any case of sexual assault, sexual harassment, or sexual bullying on campus, and the remedy methods available.”
Based on this parent law, the ministry issued the Regulations on the Prevention and Handling of Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment or Sexual Bullying on Campus (校園性侵害性騷擾或性霸凌防治準則).
Article 7 of the regulations states: “Teachers shall not develop interpersonal interactions related to sex or gender that violate professional ethic codes with students under their instruction, guidance, training, evaluation, management, consultation, or when providing students employment opportunities... Should a teacher find that his or her relationship with a student violates the code of professional ethics referenced in the previous paragraph, the teacher shall take the initiative to avoid further interaction with the student or report the matter to the school for handling.”
A closer look at the article shows that the stipulation that teachers may not develop interpersonal interactions “related to sex or gender” with students might in fact cover all social contact between the two sexes, and is not restricted to sexual assault, harassment or bullying. This goes beyond the scope of the parent law.
No wonder schools at all levels handle all cases involving both sexes based on the Gender Equity Education Act, disregarding whether the cases fall within the scope of the law. Surely this is something that the officials at the education ministry would agree with.
Lin Chun-kuan is a chief attorney-at-law.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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