TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – A nationwide debate concerning government interference in the internal affairs of the country’s universities erupted into tense protests on the campus of National Taiwan University (NTU) on Friday May 4.
The protests and counter-protests follow the decision of the Ministry of Education (MOE) on Friday, April 27 to reject the appointment of the recently elected Kuan Chung-Ming (管中閔) to the post of NTU President.
After a drawn out saga that began with his election in January, and included the resignation of former Minister of Education Pan Wen-chung (潘文忠), the national government, under the newly appointed Minister Wu Maw-kuen (吳茂昆) chose to reject Kuan’s appointment to the office.
The Ministry cited irregularities in the selection process and the fact that Kuan had not reported that he was an independent board member at Taiwan Mobile as official reasons. However, the debate was also rife with allegations of plagiarism, conflicts of interest, and illegal employment involving Chinese universities.
The MOE in the past has generally not interfered in university affairs, and the recent decision has sparked concern and anger among many, especially KMT supporters who see the actions of the MOE as unjust interference in the affairs of educational institutions, which should ostensibly be apolitical.
Following the decision Kuan’s supporters formed the Action Alliance for University Autonomy, and took to NTU campus to protest on Friday May 4. The former president Ma Ying-jeou, and former KMT chairwomen Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) made appearances to show their support for Kuan and the Action Alliance.
Bedecked in yellow ribbons, the KMT backed student protest campaign in support of Kuan and university autonomy has been dubbed the “New May Fourth Movement” (五月四運動) by activists, reports CNA. They claim that the DPP-led government has crossed a line and infringed upon academic freedom in Taiwan.
After the MOE’s decision, what was an administrative debacle has now activated portions of the student body, polarizing some into Pro-Kuan (挺管) and Anti-Kuan (反管) factions.
Shortly after the Action Alliance converged on NTU campus, about 20 counter protesters arrived and began acting out mock-Taoist and folk rituals purporting to call for the spiritual protection of students and the university from the Alliance. Their counter protest, intended to antagonize the protesters, also appealed to “student rights” and the need to protect “free speech” further inflaming a tense situation.
Students opposed to Kuan’s appointment, as well as those supporting him have hung banners throughout NTU campus with various political slogans. Pro-Kuan supporters hurled insults at the counter protesters including “Red Guards” and “Japanese lackeys,”reports Liberty Times. The smaller Anti-Kuan faction accused the Pro-Kuan students and teachers of supporting a cheater and a liar.
Confrontations began to escalate throughout the afternoon, and police intervened to separate the two groups.
There is fear among observers that both factions may be unwilling to discuss issues rationally, and that tension may erupt into further violence. One NTU professor called Friday “The darkest day in NTU’s history,” reports Liberty Times.
The controversy over the appointment of Kuan appears to have developed into a major debate over government oversight and autonomy of higher learning institutions in a crucial election year. NTU must now conduct a new election process to determine its next president, under the watchful eye of the electorate.
Some of the confrontation between the groups can be seen below: