by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Lin Chih-chien/Facebook

THE DPP’S TAOYUAN mayoral candidate, former Hsinchu mayor Lin Chih-chien, withdrew from the Taoyuan mayoral race today after weeks of controversy about his National Taiwan University master’s thesis. Lin continued to defend his innocence, but will now be replaced by Taoyuan DPP legislator Cheng Yun-peng. 

Lin was dealt another blow in the ongoing plagiarism scandal against him earlier this week when an NTU campus committee convened to investigate the allegations against him concluded that his thesis was likely plagiarized. The committee recommended that his MA be revoked, which the NTU administration later did. 

Lin is accused of plagiarizing a thesis written another graduate student, Yu Cheng-huang, with a computer analysis showing that the theses are 40% similar. Lin’s thesis advisor, Chen Ming-tong, who is currently the director-general of the National Security Bureau and previously served as Minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, previously defended Lin with the claim that he had provided Lin’s draft and data to Yu. However, he claimed that because Yu graduated before Lin did, this led to the misleading perception that Yu plagiarized Lin. Chen has been accused by the pan-Blue camp of allowing pan-Green politicians, such as Chen Chu, to obtain easy academic degrees to bolster their political credentials in the past. 

Lin Chih-chien’s Facebook post announcing his withdrawal

The NTU committee convened to investigate took the view that plagiarism included identical typos in English phrases and so that the plagiarism did not merely pertain to sharing sample data. 

For his part, Lin denied the charges, stating that he eventually expected an apology and explanation from NTU. Lin previously publicized the text of his thesis in response to the allegations. Some chatter online after the decision also suggested that there is some belief that Yu’s questionnaire could have been patterned after Lin’s. 

The NTU investigation is unlikely to resolve the matter. Namely, it is probable that many members of the pan-Green camp will see NTU’s actions as suspicious, seeing as NTU is currently headed by former Ma administration official Kuan Chung-ming. Lin may continue to have his defenders.

Kuan previously came under scrutiny for possibly holding teaching positions in China, despite that former government ministers are restricted from doing so several years after their leave their positions. Likewise, as the selection committee for NTU president included a fellow member of the Taiwan Mobile board, which Kuan also served on, this led to questions as to whether this involved a conflict of interest. The controversy over Kuan’s appointment and whether the Ministry of Education should potentially cross the bounds of campus autonomy to remove Kuan dragged on for over year and led to the resignation of multiple ministers of education. 

The investigation into whether Lin’s other MA degree, which is from Chung Hua University’s Department of Technology Management, is still ongoing. For the DPP, the case uncomfortably reminds of how the KMT’s Kaohsiung mayoral candidate in the by-election to recall Han Kuo-yu after his recall, Jane Lin, was found to have been guilty of plagiarism. Lee was found to have plagiarized 96% of her thesis. 

That the DPP’s original Taoyuan mayoral candidate faced similar charges would point to convergent behavior between the two parties. To this extent, the pan-Blue camp has focused a significant number of political attacks on the academic credentials of pan-Green politicians in recent years, such as alleging that President Tsai Ing-wen’s dissertation is fake or plagiarized, or that her Ph. D is fake. Although one has seen a renewed emphasis on such claims directed at Tsai after NTU’s ruling, one notes that nobody was questioning if Lin’s thesis existed or if he had an MA, just whether it was plagiarized. 

Tsai instructed the DPP to defend Lin from plagiarism charges yesterday, stating that she believed in his innocence. This took place after Tsai was criticized by members of the DPP for not doing enough to defend Lin. It is unusual as to why she would order this when plans to withdraw Lin were presumably already known. 

Chen Yun-peng’s Facebook post announcing his candidacy

It may be these incidences of academic plagiarism point to flaws of oversight in Taiwan’s academic system, in which it proves relatively easy to obtain degrees even from elite universities such as NTU in order to bolster one’s credentials. Likewise, it is a commonplace phenomenon for politicians to obtain additional degrees in order to bolster their credentials in political runs–Lin’s second degree from NTU was notably obtained while he was serving as Hsinchu mayor. 

This is a practice engaged in by both pan-Green and pan-Blue politicians alike and it is somewhat surprising that the scandal would, in fact, become so magnified against Lin in this way. Arguably the accusations against Tsai even prove a projection of a practice seen in Taiwanese institutions onto foreign ones. It is somewhat unusual that a relatively well-known practice became scrutinized during this set of elections, but it points to a deeply-rooted, larger issue in Taiwanese politics. 

The Lin scandal is likely to hurt the DPP, which was hoping to hold onto Taoyuan after a successful two terms by Cheng Wen-tsan, seen as an accomplishment when Taoyuan has traditionally been firmly pan-Blue. Yet the KMT’s candidate, Simon Chang, may be a relatively weak opponent. Chang seemingly failed to take advantage of the Lin scandal to grandstand by playing a relatively small part in amplifying allegations against Lin, and became the KMT candidate after a contested process that involved Taipei city councilor Lo Chih-chiang and former presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu wanting to throw their hats into the ring. 

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