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Foreign student caught up in grim reality at local university

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- “I’ve lost faith in the Taiwan educational system,” said William Terry Alred with a heavy heart.

“I have no legal rights to do anything,” he added, while noting that his plans to teach political science in the United States in the future have just vanished.

Alred, a U.S. citizen living in Taiwan, applied to the Ph.D. program of the Department of Political Science at National Chung Cheng University in October 2007.

He submitted all the required documents that included a 25-page research proposal and a statement clearly explaining that he did not speak or understand Chinese.

After the school’s Office of International Student Affairs confirmed that international graduate studies did not require the students to speak or understand Chinese, he was officially admitted to the program after completing all the necessary steps in December 2007.

Yet he was rapidly disenchanted with his studies.

On February 20, he immediately was faced with a thorny issue as the professor of one the program’s mandatory courses, Dr. Lee Pei-shan, only spoke to him in English during the opening minutes of the course, then switched to Chinese for the next hour.

After meeting with her and expressing his desire to learn and study in her class, he told The China Post that he was “coldly dismissed.”

“When I again expressed in the following class that I could not understand Chinese above the most basic level, she clearly stated: ‘That is not my problem,’” he recalled.

Following that event, Alred explained that he asked Dr. Liao Kun-jung, professor and chairperson of the Department of Political Science, to act as a go-between to try to work out an agenda with Lee, but to no avail.

Lee reportedly stated that she “refused to teach him.”

During Alred’s third class, Lee’s husband, another professor in the physics department at the school, was unexpectedly present in the classroom with a recording device, while Lee directed several questions to him in Chinese and “sat broadly smiling in front of the class,” he remembered.

“They had conspired to set me up so they could rationalize their misconduct to the university officials,” he went on. “They hoped I would have reacted inappropriately in the class while I was being embarrassed because they were recording it.”

Contacted several times by The China Post, professors Liao and Lee, however, declined to comment on Alred’s claims.

Dr. Huang Bwo-nung, the school’s dean of Academic Affairs, reluctantly admitted the incident and maintained that National Chung Cheng University does not require international students to speak or understand Chinese before enrolling in graduate studies.

He also stressed that Chung Cheng University eventually launched Chinese-language courses — free of charge — for all foreign students that semester, and allocated more funds to departments for designing programs entirely in English.

Alred had already dropped out of the program.

Huang further acknowledged the school’s limited authority in forcing university professors to speak English in their classrooms, contrary to the fact that Chung Cheng advertised its program directly to foreign students.

“Perhaps the department accepted students too quickly,” he said.

“Dr. Lee once told me: ‘This is not personal,’” Alred thought back, as he expressed concern that another foreigner may leave his or her home, family and place of employment and then be subjected to similar treatment.

According to figures from Taiwan’s Ministry of Education, 13,070 foreign students studied at various colleges and universities in Taiwan in 2006, up from 11,035 students a year earlier.

Among them, 3,935 hopefuls have officially enrolled in bachelor, master or Ph.D. programs.

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