University autonomy is within the scope protected by the freedom of teaching under Article 11 of the Constitution. Universities are entitled to the right of autonomy in teaching, research, learning and other academic matters, such as internal organization, curriculum models, research topics, scholastic aptitude evaluations, examination rules and graduation requirements. In supervising universities, the government, according to Article 162 of the Constitution, shall formulate statutes, to the extent that they follow the principle of university autonomy, in order to prevent improper intervention in university matters, further develop universities’ characteristics, and achieve their purposes of increasing knowledge and nurturing talent. Legislative bodies shall not arbitrarily utilize the law to compel universities to establish particular units and infringe upon their autonomy of internal organization. Administrative agencies shall not utilize ordinances to interfere with the curriculum and syllabi of universities, thus infringing upon freedom of teaching and research. The standard of legislative and administrative policies, to the extent consistent with university autonomy, shall be properly constrained. The competent authorities of education may only exercise their supervisory powers over university operations on the legality issues (see J.Y. Interpretations Nos. 380 and 450).
The purposes of universities are to conduct academic research, educate individuals, promote culture, serve the society and encourage the nation’s development (Article 1, Paragraph 1 of the University Act). As educational institutions, universities have missions to grow national morality and cultivate students’ healthy and sound character (see Article 158 of the Constitution and Article 2, Paragraph 2 of the Fundamental Act on Education). The University Act, amended and promulgated on January 5, 1994, does not explicitly regulate the matter of student expulsion. To fulfill the purpose of university education, universities have the power and responsibility to examine students’ academic achievement and conduct. Formulating the regulations stipulated by the procedures on the expulsion of students whose grades are below a certain standard or whose conduct has significantly deviated from proper behavior is within the scope of university autonomy. Legislative bodies shall formulate statutes to properly regulate, to the reasonable extent that universities are still entitled to the right of autonomy, nation-wide university academic matters. National Chengchi University and its Department of Ethnology followed the above-mentioned specification: A degree candidate for Master of Ethnology, who fails a subject test twice, should be expelled. Such regulation is a matter of self-government of the school and does not contradict the spirit and meaning of the aforesaid constitutional principle.
According to the Degree Conferral Act, amended and promulgated on May 6, 1983, a graduate student shall “study for more than two years, finish the required classes and thesis, pass all subjects, and be selected as a candidate for a master’s degree” (Article 4, Paragraph 1). Moreover, “the candidate must pass the final examination and be qualified by the Ministry of Education” (Article 4, Paragraph 2), and then the university will confer upon him/her a master’s degree. The above provision was amended on April 27, 1994, to read: “graduate students from universities’ master’s degree programs, after completing the required courses, presenting a thesis, and passing the final examination given by the Committee on Master’s Degree Examination, shall receive a master’s degree” (Article 6, Paragraph 1). The purpose was to preclude a qualification procedure by the Ministry of Education, enhance universities’ right of autonomy to confer a degree, and thus only set a basic regulation on the conferment of a degree. Although such clause “pass all the subjects” has been removed, and “the candidate must pass the final examination” has been amended to “passing the final examination given by the Committee on Master’s Degree Examination”, university autonomy is institutionally protected by the Constitution, for in guaranteeing that the conferment of a degree maintains a certain standard, universities could certainly formulate related qualifications and conditions of taking a degree to the extent reasonable and necessary. Article 25, Paragraph 2 of the University Act, which states: “For graduate students from Master’s or Ph.D. programs, who have fulfilled the course requirements and passed all subjects, such university shall respectively confer a Master’s or a Ph.D. degree,” follows the same principle. During the Conference of School Affairs in National Chengchi University on June 14, 1996, the school passed a Master’s Degree Examination Outline Regulation: Each department could on its own initiative regulate that a graduate student shall pass a qualification exam before presenting his/her thesis (Article 2, Paragraph 1). The Department of Ethnology from this school also amended its Qualification Exam Outline for master’s degree candidates on September 19, 1996, and established the subject test for master’s degree candidates accordingly. The provisions of this Qualification Exam Outline did not exceed the scope of university autonomy; therefore, there is no issue of applicability of Article 23 of the Constitution.
The students’ rights to learn and to be educated shall be protected by the government (Article 8, Paragraph 2 of the Fundamental Act on Education). A university’s act of expulsion or of any other similar punishment which alters the status of the student and his or her right to be educated significantly associates with the rights and interests of the student (see J.Y. Interpretation No. 382). When punishing a student with expulsion according to university regulations, the cause of expulsion and rules of related matters shall be reasonably appropriate, and their formulation and execution shall follow due process. Article 17, Paragraph 1 of the University Act states: “To enhance the educational effect of universities, an elected student representative shall attend the Conference of School Affairs and any other conference associated with academics, life, and formulation of rules related to reward and punishment.” Paragraph 2 of the same Article states: “Universities shall safeguard and assist students to form autonomous associations, manage any affairs related to students’ learning, life and rights in school, and establish a system of petitions for students to protect their rights.” Certainly, universities shall follow the rules related to the formulation of regulations and student petitions.
* Translation and Note by Wei-Feng HUANG
**Also available in Leading Cases of the Taiwan Constitutional Court, Vol. II (2019).