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Liu's questions in a coconut shell

Former premier Liu Chao-shiuan stirred a wee bit of controversy last week when he compared students at National Taiwan University (NTU) with the coconut trees that line so many of the picturesque pathways on that beautiful campus.

Coconut trees grow tall, he said. Coconut trees reach high into the sky. But coconut trees grow no branches or leaves to offer shade to anything or anyone down below.

Coconut trees live for themselves, or appear to.

Professor Liu, former president of both National Tsinghua University and Soochow University, delivered the remarks as the keynote speaker at NTU commencement ceremony. That is what I call guts.

His words are reminiscent of those of influential educator, author and former university president (also at two distinguished institutions) Lee Chia-tong some time back. Professor Lee, it will be remembered, and in a widely noted commencement address as well, lamented the number of NTU students who were graduating and promptly entering the entertainment field. As I recall, the former president of Providence University and National Chinan University pointed particularly at attractive young women graduates who appeared at the time to cash in more on their voices and sex appeal than on their college education and academic achievements.

Like Poe's raven, the beauty factor in Taiwan life just won't go away, will it? Interestingly, Mr. Liu also noted that a number of graduates from NTU medical school prefer these current years to enter the lucrative field of cosmetic surgery rather than, presumably, the more community-oriented and less profitable specializations of emergency room service, family medicine, obstetrics, and so on.

He singled out engineering students for veiled criticism too. Why do so many of these skilled technicians seem to lack a spirit of creativity, not to mention adventure?

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