Students at National Taiwan University march to defend school autonomy

Society & Culture

Students at the prestigious National Taiwan University (NTU) in Taipei are planning a protest — dubbed the “New May Fourth Movement” — on Friday, May 4, to object to the Taiwanese government’s interference in the election of the school’s president.

The organizers condemn the “government’s attempt to undermine university autonomy.” Their main complaint is that Taiwan’s Ministry of Education has been attempting to delegitimize NTU’s election of Kuan Chung-ming 管中閔 as its new president. Kuan, a former Kuomintang (KMT) minister, was elected on January 5 by 21 members of the school’s Presidential Search Committee. Since then, the Ministry of Education has accused him of ethical lapses, and said there was a conflict of interest with one of the voting members of the Presidential Search Committee, according to the Taipei Times.

Kuan’s defenders say he is being smeared in a political campaign. Hundreds of students and school faculty members are expected to march on campus on Friday in protest. They will read out loud a “New May Fourth Manifesto” (新五四运动宣言 xīn wǔsì yùndòng xuānyán) and hold a candlelight vigil. The New May Fourth Manifesto reads (in Chinese):

Former school president Fu Sinian 傅斯年 once said that NTU can never be used for non-academic purposes. But today, the governing body of Taiwan has exploited our school for its political ambitions, dragging students and teachers at NTU and all Taiwanese people into a perilous situation of internal friction and fighting… With profound grief, we need to recognize that what NTU is experiencing is a warning about higher education in Taiwan and a window into the future of Taiwan.

After Kuan’s election in January, the Education Ministry, which is currently controlled by the KMT’s rival Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), refused to allow him to take office, saying that the selection process was flawed and Kuan was unqualified for the job, citing a variety of unverified allegations.

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Kuan Chung-ming 管中閔 and NTU students

On April 27, the ministry announced that NTU would have to elect a new president. The decision triggered a wave of anger from Kuan’s supporters, with many accusing the government of meddling in university autonomy based on its political interests. Wu Maw-kuen 吳茂昆, minister of education, said on April 29 that the allegations against Kuan were valid and that the ministry has “never interfered with university autonomy,” but an increasing number of student advocates and intellectuals have been coming forward to denounce the decision.


Wu Maw-kuen 吳茂昆

Sun Chen 孫震, former NTU president, held a press conference on Wednesday to voice his disappointment at the ministry. “The ministry’s decision was against the public interest, against the law and not based on truth,” Sun said. “This political and legal controversy will not end until Minister of Education Wu Maw-kuen steps down and the Executive Yuan apologizes.”

Meanwhile, NTU students have been putting up yellow banners and ribbons on campus to support Kuan. “University autonomy. Give back our president,” a banner reads.

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Outside NTU, an alliance has formed against the ministry. On April 28, the Association of National Universities of Taiwan released a statement in defense of university autonomy, saying that the majority of its over 50 members regarded the ministry’s decision as invalid. During the weekend, National Tsing Hua University also issued a declaration, calling on Taiwanese politicians to stop meddling in university affairs.


National Tsing Hua University faculty and students