Faculty Member Fired from Private University

Today’s Taipei Times reports on the case of Ho De-fen (賀德芬). Dr. Ho has taught at Nanhua University for four years. This year, Nanhua refused to renew her contract citing her failure to meet the academic requirements of her position. It’s a little hard to notice Dr. Ho’s side of the story from the Taipei Times article, but the Chinese-language press has been more detailed discussion of the incident. This article from the pro-Blue United Daily News ((聯合報) states that, apparently, Dr. Ho has a blog in which she has been very critical of the university, charging it with some serious neglect of student needs. I have not been able to find the original post on Dr. Ho’s blog. If anyone knows where it is, please let me know.

The dismissal of Dr. Ho comes weeks after the dismissal of another controversial professor. Chuang Kuo-rong (莊國榮) from National Chengchi University (NCCU). NCCU claims they are dismissing the former DPP secretary-general of the Ministry of Education because of remarks he made during this year’s presidential election. In addition, NCCU announced they would not rehire Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) following his leave to serve as the former DPP government’s representative to the USA.

I am deeply disturbed by all of this. I have never heard of so many faculty members being denied contracts. The claim in all of these situations is that these professors have not meet the responsibilities of the job. This is clearly not the case with Dr. Wu who has significant personal experience in the field in which he teaches.

These events have attracted a great deal of attention from other bloggers, both in English and Chinese. In addition to A-Gu Ma: Give Chuang Kuo-rong another chance and Jerome Keating The KMT Revives Memories of its Blacklist, I’d like to make sure that readers have a look at Michael Turton’s remarks on the situation. Although he refers readers back to me, he posts relevant information that I have not.

There is also discussion on forumosa.com and information available on Chinese-langauge blogs

Zonble’s notebook



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This sort of thing has been on the cards for years, but is a worrying development. Technically anyone can lose their job over not meeting their contractual demands/vocational responsibilities, whatever they may be. During my time in Taiwan my contract could have meant anything, and had someone challenged me on it I would have been powerless. Half the clauses were never explained to me, and those that were were just complete gray areas. I mean, publish every 3 years. Ok, in what? What level? Department books? SSCI journals? I’m sure in any problem situation this sort of thing could be used against me. Do you know the ins and outs of your contract? Fi you don’t then be nervous. It needs to be fully explained as a matter of course.

The situation this years sets a bad precedence. Don’t be surprised that staff will be laid off after long careers so as to save on pensions, etc. The can of worms has been opened. Pessimistically viewing things, anyone can lose their job over technicalities, one of which obviously is criticising your employers and how they operate. Sad. Sad. Sad.

It is surely relevant that in Taiwan, professors (and schoolteachers in general) are legally barred from forming labor unions. The DPP made some noises about changing this, but ultimately did nothing.

Often, hiring and firing decisions are made not by faculty committee, but by the relevant dean. In theory, a university can expect to be censured by the MoE if they are found to have unjustly refused contract renewal. In practice, fired professors rarely have the leisure to wait around appealing their case, and the importance of the MoE’s opinion waxes and wanes according to whether a school evaluation is planned for the near future.

Imagine what would happen if the education economy were completely liberalized: you would have the elite universities, then a bunch of glorified buxibans and diploma mills. Close to what we have now, I know, but the government does have an impact. It grants subsidies (pork) for which universities compete. It pretends to guarantee the legitimacy of academic degrees (which many students would be happy to receive, regardless of whether they had to learn anything to get it). It forces universities to jump through various hoops in order to preserve the appearance, if not necessarily the reality, of education. To cut off the government role would force buyers (and employers) to beware, and encourage universities to form guilds, like the U.S. accreditation bureaux.

“Imagine what would happen if the education economy were completely liberalized: you would have the elite universities, then a bunch of glorified buxibans and diploma mills.”

Er, doesn’t it exist already in Taiwan? This is clearly evident in terms of research funding and ouput in Taiwan. Maybe this is why Scott has posted months back about his university’s attemtpt – his university being a former degree awarding college – to get accreditation with a US body. Isn’t this one expression of an anbitious buxiban (without a research base) trying to get into the elites of Taiwanese education? Could Scott therefore update us on whether his university has been successful or not in its accreditation process? Given the lack of postings on this matter I can guarantee the entire process has been fruitless.

In a follow up to my prior posting could Scott offer any comments on how the precedence of professorial ‘sackings’ in effect puts the majority of Taiwan’s university staff at the risk of the falling sword. Is he worried given his status as an instructor, i.e. someone without a PhD and publications in first rate journals?

Thanks for the comments.

The implication of my post was that the new KMT government is involved in the persecution of faculty affiliated with the DPP. It was a statement about academic freedom under the KMT. It was NOT a statement about policy changes at the MOE over the past few years or about the current accreditation procedures. I think if you read Jerome Keating’s post that I linked to it will clear up some of the confusion.

Foreign teachers in Taiwan have a tendency to see themselves as the center of the world. This is rarely true and most of the problems that they encounter are, in my experience, the result of getting caught in fighting between local faculty. My point is that I doubt the points I addressed in the post will have any impact at all on English teachers. Why would they? None of us have never been a major political figure in the DPP government.

Bob, why would you presume that because I haven’t written anything about Middle States accreditation that there are problems? I haven’t written about how there’s a new minister of education or even that the KMT are in power now. In fact, I have no idea what’s happening. That post was based on an interview with the Executive VP Dr. Yuan. I haven’t spoken with him about this since then, nor have I been a part of the departmental process preparing and dealing with accreditation visits. I have no idea what’s happening.

Finally, don’t be fooled by this talk about teacher’s unions. Teachers have legal obstacles toward organization because historically, teachers were directly connected to the KMT. They were security officials in the KMT military regime and have been called by paramilitary by some education historians. Like the military and public service, under the KMT, teachers received enormous special privilege. Virtually all teachers from that period support Pan-Blue parties. This is why the DPP made no significant changes to legislation handling teacher’s unions.

Obviously, politics is THE big player (the only one?…)

Question: is there a life for a professor outside the University?
Answer: yes.

Question: can the professor do whatever he/she wants to do?
Answer: no.

Question: why?
Answer: the professor is supposed to be some kind of model. He/she is not supposed to transform his/her lecture into a political forum.

Question: come on! Where is the freedom? I have the right to express my opinions, even if they are not in favor of the actual government. What are you talking about? And anyway, I am not talking about these subjects during my lectures.
Answer: Oh yes? You don’t talk about your political ideas during your lectures? Huh? Ok… I believe you… angel

Question: so if you “believe” me, what is your point?
Answer: I believe that professors could have the freedom to express OUTSIDE the University their ideas. But if they do, they are supposed to use logical points. Not only insults… whatever your color… Base your critics on facts. Not suspicions. You are a professor. If you want spend more time for politics or business (I saw professors selling their products during their class…), fine. It is your right. But in that case, change your job.

Question: come on! I am not like “this” or “this” one. I was doing abroad my job for the country. And of course I had no times to publish.
Answer: yes… I know… So it really seems to have nothing to do with your abilities or your qualities… Not fair… I know…

1 – That is not a big news: in any University (in Europe, it is the same), there are factions, fighting each others. Most of the case, it has nothing to do with politics, teaching qualities or publications, but with POWER.

2 – But in France for example, very seldom politics can lead the University to fire a professor, especially if he/she never involved his/her personal opinions during the lecture or inside the University.

3 – But if you start to cross the line, doing more politics than teaching, doing more business than teaching then, you should be prepared for the consequences.

4 – In a full mature democratic country, you could be a good professor and express outside your opinions (in an intelligent way) without having any problem or risk. But obviously, it is not the case in some other countries…

5 – Obviously in some places, it is better to shut up and keep a low profile.

The problem in Taiwan is more complex than in Western countries. For the past 8 years, the position of universities and the MOE has been that faculty are hired with what Western universities call tenure. As such, they are extremely hard to remove once they are hired full-time.

Contrary to the anonymous comment attributed to Bob, there has been no exception to this. The only situations I know where this has not been the case have been associated with moral transgressions or criminal/mentally-disordered behaviour. While many foreign teachers have expressed concern about pressure to get a doctorate or publish, in fact, I know of no one who has been dismissed or even threatened with dismal for such issues.

The problem I wrote about here is completely associated with the KMT’s recent electoral victory. My point was supposed to be – as soon as the KMT got into the President’s Office and control the LY, school’s start getting rid of people. Once again, I recommend you have a look at Jerome Keating’s post. Looked at from an historical perspective, it is not an issue of academic freedom, per say, as much as it is one of how after 8 years of democracy and freedom of speech, it’s back to the same old situation that existed before – last time the KMT was in power.

“The problem in Taiwan is more complex than in Western countries.”

In what ways? Taiwanese higher education is riddled with politics, and in the West it isn’t?

Also I find this ‘it’s the Blues’ fault rather insidious, and to be honest, ignorant? No Professor where you work Scott has been pushed out due to performance related issues? No one was forced out of office during the Chen era? Enlighten us.

Furthermore, Scott are you fearful given your lack of publications?

Anonymous Bob, it would be wrong not to blame the KMT. Perhaps you have more knowledge on this than any of us (I mean Jerome, A-Gu, Michael Turton and me – all of whom agree on this). Please let me know.

In fact absolutely no one in my school has been pushed out for any reason other than those I listed. I have to admit I’m a little confused by your use of the term “performance-related issue”. I’m not sure whether you consider moral indiscretion or criminal behavior a “performance-related issue”. Do you know something about my school that I don’t?

It seems strange you would quote me and then misuse my words. The word I used to describe education was “complex” and not “political”. By this, I was referring to policy. And yes, I think it is more complex. Policy in general in post-colonial states is much less rationalized than policy in advanced economies. I think the case of the teacher’s union is an example of this. Readers here and other forums I frequent constantly bring this up as an example of worker oppression or the poor state of teacher’s working conditions. I have read as much on websites for international unions. It is nothing of the sort. The complaint itself is akin to complaining about the military lacking a union.

Understanding why teachers have a special relationship with the KMT is not obvious or easily understood. Even some of the researchers who regularly post comments on this blog have expressed difficulty understanding this. Organizing teachers along the lines of Western teacher’s associations will not change their affiliation with the KMT nor the kind of person who has been attracted by the profession and as such the kind of professional socialization they receive. In short, Western concepts of professional organization do not adequately match the organization of teacher in Taiwan. New theories and descriptions need to be constructed.

I think that’s complex. How about you?


Thanks for your comments. I would though raise a small number of points:

– The issue is a little more complicated that just being created by the Blues. Yes, historical/political legacy is hugely significant but the Greens strategy had many flaws.

– Your language center has never pushed people out who had low teaching evaluations, had issues with students, were disruptive, lazy? If not, quite obviously there is a brilliant recruitment policy/means to judge teacher’s personality prior to their start of employment.

– Yes, it is a complex issue!

– Still no answer as to whether you feel insecure in the current climate! Given you work in a language center not a kosher department doesn’t this make the position of people like yourself more precarious?

Thanks for all comments posted before.

Anonymous Bob, I don’t want to sound the wrong way, but one of the things that irritates me enormously is readers who pick up on a couple of sentences I write and start going on endlessly about this. I don’t know if this is your case, and I owe you an apology if your commenting from an informed position, but it’s not clear to me that you are. I have been writing this blog for 5 years. In that time, I have hardly been a defender of DPP policy. But in addition to this, you seem to be confusing what went on during the last 8 years with the situations that Jerome, A-Gu, Michael and I are referring to.

Once again, I’m still confused about what you mean with the term “performance-related issue”. You go on to talk about teachers who “had low teaching evaluations, had issues with students, were disruptive, lazy.” Certainly such teachers have been addressed. Shouldn’t this happen? Are you saying that teachers who are like this should not have pressure put on them, and that if it happens in Taiwan this is somehow unique and related to a growing decline of academic freedom in Taiwan? Can you clarify this for me?

Regardless, I can also say that no one in my school has ever been fired directly over such issues. Do I feel threatened? Not really. I have a contract for next year. No one was fired this year. I have yet to hear of anyone being fired for anything but what is ostensibly a reasonable cause.

There is currently a lot of panic among foreign teachers about MOE accreditation and the growing emphasis on research. First, there is no shortage of jobs for MA holders. Just today, Fooyin University was advertising for MA holders. I have been offered jobs at other universities – in Taipei. I have friends with MAs who have been offered good jobs. There is no problem getting a job with only an MA. Second, as Michael Turton points out, if having no major publications was an issue, almost all the faculty of private universities in Taiwan – including my own – would have to go. In fact, my personal research and that of the group I work with in the language center, while having no SSCI publications so far, is far more active than almost any of the faculty in our university.

But finally, I want to get back to my original point. The problems Jerome, A-Gu, Michael and I wrote about have NOTHING to do with this. These professors and others we have not written about are experiencing a very sudden, very different kind of pressure than anyone has experienced for the past 8 years. This pressure is not related to their academic performance or their conduct as professors. It is related to their political activities outside the school.

Historically, scholars and intellectuals suffered enormously under KMT military rule. This was supposed to have disappeared with the lifting of martial law and subsequent democratic reforms. But look what happens? The KMT get back in office, and within months, it’s the same old message – If you want to be involved in politics, join the party. Critics will not be tolerated.

I left a comment on Zonble’s blog here.


One Response to “Faculty Member Fired from Private University”

  1. Scott Sommers’ Taiwan Blog Says:

    […] scottsommers While I have made the point that the KMT government in Taiwan has a special relationship with acadmic censorship, in fact, the firing of professors is a growing issue worldwide. Dr. Denis Rancourt, a tenured full […]

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