Student Movements Increasingly Assertive in Taiwan

Student Movements Increasingly Assertive in Taiwan
Photo Credit: AP/達志影像

What you need to know

A student group on the HSNU campus is adding to the wave of increasingly vocal and organized student movements in Taiwan.

Students in the Affiliated High School of National Taiwan Normal University (HSNU) are calling for National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) to respect established procedures for appointing the principal at their high school.

Traditionally it has been the norm for universities to appoint the principal at their affiliated high schools. Starting on June 1, however, the Legislative Yuan ordered all high schools across the nation to establish a selection process for appointing principals, including high schools affiliated to national universities. The selection process is mandated by law to incorporate input from school faculty and parents.

As the current HSNU principal’s term ends with July, NTNU needed to appoint a new principal before August. Claiming the entire selection process would require more than six months, NTNU independently appointed a “provisional principal” to head the school as they have in previous years, Apple Daily reported.

Interestingly enough, instead of a governmental body, the people who first cried foul in this incident were the students.

HSNU Sounds (附中異音) is the face of the students campaigning for NTNU to enact a selection process before the new school semester in August. The underground student group is dissatisfied with existing channels of communication with the school, and is the main force in the protests on the issue.

In an interview with The News Lens International, HSNU Sounds said they were concerned with the effect that an appointed, conservative principal could have on the relatively liberal HSNU school environment.

“If a principal does not understand the school spirit or does not acknowledge the school motto, the principal will inevitably experience conflict with the school administration, teachers and students,” the student group said.

They argue that respecting opinions from faculty and the student body is the only way to respect the liberal values HSNU has a longstanding reputation for.

It seems that dissatisfaction with this issue has been snowballing for some time. HSNU Sounds says even before the new legislation was passed, HSNU faculty had been requesting for two years that NTNU establish a selection process, but the university’s response has constantly been that they were still "looking into the process."

After the new law was passed, students concerned with the issue felt legitimacy in their advocacy, HSNU Sounds says. Two students, Althea Chung (鍾欣庭) and Tsai Pin-zhen (陳品臻), began bringing attention to the issue by spotlighting it in their HSNU Student Council election campaign and organizing petitions and speeches on campus. They hope that through the attention created by their campaign, NTNU will not delay in establishing a selection process.

So far, the campaign has been successful in bringing attention to the issue. The students have collected more than 600 student signatures to support their campaign. Major Taiwanese news outlets have reported on the protests, and Ministry of Education (MOE) officials have been compelled to comment on the movement.

Chiu Dong-po (邱東坡), director of the Office of Personnel at the MOE, urged NTNU to hurry in establishing a selection procedure.

“Even if there is not enough time to select the principal by the new semester in August, time is not an excuse for the school to drag it past the new semester in February,” he told the Liberty Times.

A representative to NTNU from The Union (台灣高等教育產業工會), a labor union for Taiwanese higher education, also commented that for NTNU to consistently refuse incorporating a selection process was to knowingly break the law.

The HSNU Sounds student protest adds to the recent wave of high school student protests in Taiwan, such as the curriculum protests and the student uniform protests.

Protests against uniform regulations first kicked off in 2010 in Tainan Girls’ Senior High School then spread throughout the country, but the MOE only amended its uniform policy this year, no longer allowing schools to punish students who choose to not wear uniforms.

Students also started pushing for their input towards curriculum decisions last year through protests, and their wishes were granted this year through legislation.