NTU president approved to protect students’ rights: Education head

Education Minister Yeh Jiunn-rong is seen in this file photo taken on Dec. 18, 2018, amid reports that the ministry’s decision to approve the appointment of National Taiwan University president on Dec. 24 was made to “protect NTU students’ rights.” (NOWnews)

TAIPEI (CNA) — Education Minister Yeh Jiunn-rong (葉俊榮) said on Dec. 24 the ministry’s decision to approve the appointment of Kuan Chung-ming (管中閔) as National Taiwan University (NTU) president after nearly a year of indecision was made to protect NTU students’ rights and for the development of higher education.

Yeh announced earlier in the day that the ministry had reluctantly agreed to the appointment of Kuan as NTU president, and that it would be up to NTU to decide when the new president takes his post.

He said that after he took over the post of education minister in July, the ministry determined that there were major flaws in the selection process, including an undisclosed conflict of interest between Kuan and Taiwan Mobile Co. Vice Chairman Richard Tsai (蔡明興). Kuan was an independent director on Taiwan Mobile’s board while Tsai was on the 21-member NTU committee responsible for electing the university’s president.

To address the flaws, Yeh said he spoke several times with the NTU presidential selection committee in the hope that it would act responsibly and hold meetings to come up with a solution.

The selection committee never did meet to address the issues, however, and the ministry did not expect it would do so, Yeh said.

Considering that Kuan’s case has been stalled for a long time and that the two parties have different positions, the ministry decided to approve Kuan’s appointment to protect students’ rights and for the development of higher education, the minister said.

But he asked NTU to conduct a complete review within three months of the flaws and disputes that surfaced during the process of electing a new president and provide a report on corrective measures to be taken to the ministry.

Before making the announcement, Yeh informed Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德) of the decision via text message, said Cabinet spokesperson Kolas Yotaka (谷辣斯‧尤達卡). The premier directed the ministry to elaborate publicly on its decision to approve Kuan’s appointment, Kolas said.

The Education Ministry has the responsibility to approve national university presidents, and the appointment of Kuan was a matter of great importance, Kolas said, and the premier, therefore, asked Yeh to thoroughly consider the issue and explain the decision to the public.

Meanwhile, Presidential Office spokesman Sidney Lin (林鶴明) said the Presidential Office’s position has always been that the Education Ministry should be responsible for dealing with it.

Lai has briefed President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on the decision, and she expressed respect for the Cabinet’s handling of the case, Lin said.

For its part, NTU said on Dec. 24 that it was happy to see the ministry show respect for university autonomy and bring the controversy to an end.

Kuan was elected as NTU president on Jan. 5 to take over the seat left vacant by former NTU President Yang Pan-chyr (楊泮池), who chose not to serve another term at the university when his term expired in June last year.

Though Education Ministry approval of elected university presidents is normally routine, it declined to confirm Kuan’s appointment by the Feb. 1 deadline, citing conflict of interest in the selection process and other possible violations of existing regulations.

Critics of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government’s move saw it as politically motivated, however, arguing that the DPP opposed Kuan because of his association with the opposition Kuomintang (KMT).

Kuan served in the KMT administration unseated by the DPP in 2016 as its chief economic planner from February 2013 to February 2015.

The DPP government’s change in position comes after it suffered a major defeat in Taiwan’s elections for local government offices on Nov. 24, winning control of only six of Taiwan’s 22 cities and counties, down from 13 previously.

Opposition KMT Legislator Ko Chih-en (柯志恩) hailed Yeh for making the “correct decision” and said she hoped the ruling DPP would learn a lesson from the turmoil it created by unseating Kuan.

Meanwhile, KMT spokesman Hung Meng-kai (洪孟楷) asked “Is it possible that no official should be held responsible for blocking Kuan’s appointment?” DPP lawmaker Wu Szu-yao (吳思瑤) said she had not been informed of the matter in advance and was completely stunned and puzzled by the ministry’s decision.

By Phoenix Hsu, Ku Chuan, Chen Chih-chung, Chen Chun-hua and Evelyn Kao