Top university divided as second education minister quits

Taiwan’s newly-appointed Minister of Education Wu Maw-Kuen has resigned after serving in the post for just over a month. His exit has left smouldering a politicised controversy over leadership of the top National Taiwan University, which sparked protests in May.

The resignation came after allegations surfaced of possible misconduct over the allocation of research bonuses in Wu’s previous role as president of National Dong Hwa University, as well as allegations that he served at universities in mainland China, which is not permitted for public officials under Taiwan’s laws.

Wu was appointed education minister on 16 April after previous education minister Pan Wen-chung resigned over pressure that he was holding up the approval of a new president for National Taiwan University or NTU – Taiwan’s top institution.

Kuan Chung-ming, the NTU president designate, has been embroiled in controversies over the manner of his selection in January by the university as well as facing allegations that he had taken up posts at mainland universities.

In a statement issued last Tuesday, Wu said he had handed in his resignation at the weekend. It had been accepted by Taiwan’s Premier William Lai and approved by the Executive Yuan, Taiwan’s cabinet.

“I hope my departure will put an end to all irrational attempts to interfere with the ministry’s efforts to promote education policies and allow my colleagues to move forward with their work,” he said in the statement.

But he denied research funding misconduct and illegally working for mainland universities – an accusation that surfaced almost as soon as he was appointed minister after previous education minister Pan resigned in April.

The thorny issue of the NTU president, which the new education minister was brought in to tackle after Pan stepped down, still remains unresolved and the university has been without a head for months.

‘Political’ allegations

Wu said the allegations against him since he was appointed minister had been political.

"Since I was appointed as education minister, the opposition party lawmakers have been challenging me with baseless allegations, and even with vicious verbal assaults at the Legislature," Wu said in his resignation statement.

“They tried to hamper the deliberation of several important education bills, but luckily we got the job done without being slowed down.”

He insisted that he had no cooperative relations with China other than academic exchanges and never accepted a teaching post at any Chinese university, as claimed by his detractors.

Cooperation with the Chinese Academy of Sciences or CAS was “academic, short term and limited to giving speeches”. At the time Wu was a member of Taiwan’s Academia Sinica Institute of Physics, which has a cooperation agreement with CAS.

In the statement, Wu also denied an allegation about a meeting he attended in China in 2005, saying that the world's top-class scientists for academic exchanges were also present. The meeting had nothing to do with the Chinese government, Wu said, adding that the trips had all been reported in advance.

He insisted that he had never accepted any offers from CAS, and had applied for permission in advance of the 2005 meeting, under Taiwan’s regulations – but the Executive Yuan “neither approved nor disapproved”.

Among the allegations against Wu was that he had taken TWD76 million (US$2.5 million) in research bonuses while president of National Dong Hwa University.

But he has said the “overpayment” was the result of “administrative negligence” by the university and that an official investigation into this and other allegations while he was that university’s president had proved his innocence.

Thorny issue of NTU head

Whatever the allegations against Wu, a new minister will have to try to resolve the deadlock over NTU’s head, which has now eluded two ministers in a row.

The National Federation of Teachers’ Unions and a dozen other education groups held a public protest in mid-May against what they said were government attempts to undermine NTU’s autonomy, after Wu had refused to confirm Kuan as head of the institution.

Wu said on 27 April that NTU would have to elect a new president.

Students and academics from the university also protested on campus on 4 May, saying that the rejection of Kuan – a minister in the previous KMT government – was politically motivated as the current DPP government did not want an opposition party member in the highly prestigious post.

NTU is now deeply divided into pro-Kuan and anti-Kuan groups, with both sides posting banners on campus. During the 4 May protests, police were called in to separate the squabbling groups.