Monday, February 06, 2006

Academic Freedom and Politicking in Taiwan

Dan Bauer, an English columnist for the pro-KMT China Post (Why, Dan? You're a decent guy), reflects on politics in the classroom:

I cannot remember precisely when it happened, but I received a directive from campus authorities during a recent local election to refrain from talking about politics in class. As far as I know, every instructor on my campus received the same communique. A student at that very time complained to me in an ethics reflection paper that a colleague in a different department had used a half hour in class saying why a certain candidate ought to be elected. The student said it was difficult not to show by facial expression or body language her opinion of the professor doing that in class. The young scholar said she now grasped what I had meant when I distinguished in ethics class between "exposing" our values to others, and "imposing" them on someone. She felt imposed upon.

Two years ago, in a local election, our university's founder ran for public office. They called in all the teachers to a lunch where he gave us a campaign speech, and asked us to call students at home, and talk to them at school, and otherwise push his cause among the students and their families whenever possible. Later, when he was publicly accused of doing this in the local media, he denied it (such activities are illegal). In our department a couple of pro-Blue teachers regularly hack on local Green politicians and push their own candidates prior to elections, taking much valuable class time. Hence I was delighted to see Fujen, Bauer's university, sending around a circular telling teachers not to use their classes to push particular candidates. Bauer goes on to argue:

My view of freedom of expression for college instructors probably differs from that of the majority of people in Taiwan. I am on the side of both free speech and moderation. And I strongly believe in the value of autonomy. For me, there are moments when counselors or teachers can and even should tell others how they think about value laden questions. But professionals should act reasonably in situations in which they wield great influence. After listening for an appropriate time to a client describe his behavior and feelings in the context of a marriage problem, why shouldn't a counselor say what to him or her seems right in attitudes or values clearly present in the case? The essential thing is that professionals should see the difference between exposing those under their care to their views, and imposing those views on them. We should respect the fact that others have the right to make up their own autonomous minds about how to believe, think, and act.

Bauer's argument sounds reasonable. After all, it is inevitable that when you interact with students they will come to know your own values. Sadly, my own experience with teachers here is that there are too many who cannot "respect the fact that others have the right to make up their own autonomous minds about how to believe, think, and act." Thus, Fujen's action strikes me as the correct one to take, given the power that local teachers wield over their students.


Anonymous said...

Indeed, our school is so blue-orange that these professors forget we live in a contentious time, and not only teach their views, by using for example their petty newspaper letters as text, but they act out the role of moles or spies-- trying to root out evil, which usually means things foreign. We should also remember that foreign teahers are doubly endangered insofar as green and blue fanatics can agree on one thing: the obvious foreigner is the long nose or the ig hairy. And I guarantee every naive, happy teacher, they got you in their sites.

Anonymous said...

QUOTE: "Dan Bauer, an English columnist for the pro-KMT China Post (Why, Dan? You're a decent guy), reflects on politics in the classroom:"

Mr Bauer is an independent columnist with a US passport who does not work for the KMT and just because his weekly column appears in a CIA-funded newspaper, is no reason for anyone to suggest that he is being indecent for writing in that Post. The blogger is sounding like a facist to say something like that. Freedom of speech means just that and yet you diss him for writing in a newspaper whose editorial views you dislike? Dictator desist!

[and don't erase this comment]

Michael Turton said...

Why would I erase your comment? I only erase spam. Call me what you like.

Bauer has the freedom to say what he likes, where he likes. And I have the freedom to call him on that behavior. Isn't freedom of speech great?