OPINION: National Taiwan University's Integrity Is Under Siege

OPINION: National Taiwan University's Integrity Is Under Siege
Photo Credit: 關鍵評論網 羊正鈺
What you need to know

A current student gives an inside view of a university in denial over the controversies surrounding its president-elect.

Listen
powered by Cyberon

A meeting of over 100 delegates representing faculty members, administrative staff and students on March 24 sought to resolve the controversies surrounding Kuan Chung-ming’s (管中閔) election as the president of National Taiwan University (NTU).

Instead, a majority of delegates refused to even discuss the issues that led to the crisis, voting to table all discussions indefinitely. The entire university is in denial.

At the center of the controversy stands Kuan’s failure to disclose information regarding his service as an independent director for Taiwan Mobile.

Kuan was elected president this January following a three-month election process, which began after former president Yang Pan-Chyr’s (楊泮池) decided to step down in the wake of the academic misconduct scandal that did great damage to the university.

Kuan was originally scheduled to take office on Feb. 1, but at the time of writing, the Ministry of Education (MoE) has yet to confirm his appointment. The ministry demands that questions regarding a conflict of interest and academic integrity be answered. Kuan is also currently under investigation for holding concurrent posts at universities in China.

管中閔
Photo Credit: 關鍵評論網 羊正鈺
Kuan Chung-ming poses in his office during an interview with The News Lens.
May it please the vice-chairman

Under the NTU Organizational Regulations, the president is elected by a 21-member committee consisting of nine university members, nine alumni representatives and disinterested community members, and three representatives sent by the MoE.

At the center of the controversy stands Kuan’s failure to disclose information regarding his role as an independent director for Taiwan Mobile, a telecommunication company in which Tsai Ming-hsing (蔡明興), one of the 21 committee members, is the vice chairman.

Throughout the election process, the information was not disclosed to the committee members, and Kuan did not step down from the post. It was only after his post-election announcement to resign from all posts he had held in for-profit enterprises that the information was revealed. In other words, the question of whether or not Tsai should recuse himself from the process due to the possible conflict of interest was never mentioned in the committee, let alone discussed.

One might argue that, as an independent director, Kuan is not a stakeholder of Taiwan Mobile, and therefore the conflict of interest did not exist in the first place. In theory, an independent director is a non-executive director appointed to oversee the operation of a company and to ensure that the senior management serves the interest of its shareholders. To guarantee independence, he or she may not have any pecuniary relationship with the company nor with the corporate executives besides sitting fees.

Photo Credit:neverbutterflyCC BY 2.0
National Taiwan University's main campus in Taipei's Da'an district.

In Taiwan, the reality is markedly different. Professor Liu Len-Yu (劉連煜), who teaches corporate law at the National Chengchi University School of Law, has publicly pointed out that major shareholders continue to control the appointment of independent directors and controllers. Naturally, they turn to the people who best serve their interests. In return, the independent directors are given large sitting fees. To dismiss the conflict of interest issue based on this argument would be reckless.

Even if Kuan is truly independent, a conflict of interest could still exist. As an independent director, Kuan is appointed to serve the interests of Taiwan Mobile, a company in which the Tsai family has a large stake. It remains unclear how and to what extent the conflict of interest has influenced the election process.

The big sweep

We may never know. Kuan also faces questions over his academic integrity, having been accused of plagiarizing a paper by one of his students, yet faculty members and senior administrative officials have refused to address the controversies, urging the MoE to appoint Kuan as swiftly as possible. When a group of students proposed to set up an inquiry into the controversial election process, the proposals were first rejected on procedural grounds. The proposals eventually made it to the University Affairs Meeting on March 24, but the discussion on the proposals was quickly tabled before any substantive discussion or dialogue. The possible academic integrity violation was also quickly dismissed on the grounds that seminar papers are not subject to academic integrity violation inquiries.

Kuan – also the former chairman of National Development Council under the government of Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the current chair professor in the NTU Department of Finance – has not given any constructive response to questions posed to him. He did, however, respond to the controversies by posting poems and rhetorical questions on his Facebook page. He has resorted to partisanship, calling the accusations a scheme by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party without presenting any evidence. For a distinguished academic that once called for university autonomy, accusations of partisanship only make him all the more hypocritical.

In search of integrity

With Kuan’s appointment still unconfirmed and the MoE expected to announce its verdict in the next few days, some faculty members put forward a proposal to “move on and unite,” as if anyone who has reason to doubt the election process or Kuan’s academic integrity are merely being divisive. They point to the projects and budgets awaiting the president’s approval, including NTU’s 90th Anniversary Celebration Event.

It is not a president that this university desperately needs, when its integrity is under siege.

Gerald Wang currently studies Law at National Taiwan University. He was present at the NTU University Affairs meeting on March 24.

Read next: GUIDE: How to Go to College in Taiwan

TNL Editor: TNL Staff