Military personnel on campus in Taiwan
In Taiwanese universities and high schools, there is a group of personnel you would never find in democratic countries: military training instructors. In the old days, they were responsible for talking students into joining the KMT, policing students’ appearance (length/colour of hair, nails or skirts/trousers; whether one had their shirt tucked in and shoes shined) along with students’ thoughts on the government, reporting those who were not loyal to the party and the leader’ and giving basic military training to students on the side. Bad reports would get passed on to the Ministry of Defence, which affected the positions and treatment men got during their compulsory military service. Those reports might also get passed on to future employees. Those who lived through the martial law knew very well that the chance for those with a bad report working in the public sector was very slim. They might also tell you that they joined the KMT when they were young when their military training instructors or teachers persuaded them to.
As democracy progressed, the nature of those military officers’ work changed from policing students for the KMT to student counselling and campus security. When the DPP was in power, they attempted to reduce the number of military personnel on university campus by not replacing those who left or retired. This gradually freed Taiwanese students from the martial law type of setup where they receive education.
However, 6 months in power, the KMT is proposing to bring them back. The Ministry of Education sent out a letter to all universities and colleges to enquire about the number of current military staff on campus and was prepared to propose an increase of the number of the military training instructors. The reason they gave was to allow junior officers to get promotions. Well, is putting them back into the campus the best or the only way to solve the problem? Maintaining the current staff alone would cost 5 billion NT$ (= US$ 160 million) next year. Also, is the military training behind them best used placed with students? What can they contribute in education? If not very much, what’s the point? Military officers are not trained counsellors unless they receive training in counselling. Doing student counselling is already kind of a stretch. So what do we need more of them for?
Taipei city councillor received complaints from students that they were coerced/persuaded by their military instructors to perform in the Deaflympics and Double Ten Day in front of Ma Ying-jeou this year (over 10,000 students participated). It was alleged that those officers used abusive language towards them and threatened them with formal warnings if they didn’t want to do it. When questioned in the City Council, the military instructors denied all allegations and claimed that all students participated willingly in those important occasions.
Well, are they really not placed there to serve the same or similar purpose as they used to in the martial law era? Even if they are not, it is really sensible to have military personnel on campus in a ‘free and democratic’ Taiwan?
Update: After the proposal was disclosed, Director of the Military Training Department in the Minitry of Education, Wang Fu-Lin defended the idea of increasing the number of military training instructors and denied ever having the policy of not replacing retired or resigned ones but was caught out because it was well documented in the past. When the DPP Legislator, Guan Bi-Ling pressed the Ministry of Education for an answer, the Secretary of the MoE claims that the policy remains the same and the Military Training Division was simply gathering opinions on the matter. It was also alleged that the higher up in MoE did not know anything about it when Wang sent out the letter to all universities and colleges.
The latest report shows that the KMT is not giving up the idea of having more military instructors after the first attempt was disclosed and perhaps temporarily delayed. DPP legislators just found out that two KMT legislators have proposed to amend the law to make it legal for military instructors to head student counselling offices in senior high schools. Student counselling offices should be staffed and run by qualified counsellors or psychologists. This proposal does not only violate the principle of a free and democratic country but also disregard the importance of specialisation and professionalism. DPP legislators argue that high schools should follow the steps of universities where retired and resigned military instructors are not replaced but the KMT does not seem to be taking much notice.