Hi there. I’m teaching at a not-so-great university in rural Taiwan. I told them that I was leaving at the end of my contract. Here’s the catch. They want me to sign a form that says either I will not show up in July and not get my July’s pay or that I will come in (they won’t say what hours or days) during July and (maybe) get paid. BUT, university lecturers/professors are guaranteed 12 months of pay by law (this includes July 2003 for me) and are usually not expected to be on campus during summer break. What should I do? Sign the form? Is this form legal? I can’t possibly come in during July, because I’ve already made plans to go back home.
OK, first, you ain’t hearing this from me…
You have made a mistake. Not in being honest – it’s fine to tell them that you are not going to renew your contract with them. But you need to “allow” them to believe what they need to believe in order to save face – i.e., that you are on campus.
When I worked for “a certain university” in Taipei a few years back, I frequently took vacations to the US. People would call my “office” (which I shared with the janitor – such respect they had for me, even as an associate professor!) looking for me, and the janitor, whom I had cultivated a bit (a really nice guy, although as he mostly spoke Hakka and I mostly don’t, we didn’t have much to talk about) would tell them that I was “probably in the library”. Mind you, the library had a card-reader installed, and they could easily have checked, or looked for me there, but no one ever did.
It’s all about face, and “controlling” those teachers, especially those wacky, disrespectful, non-traditional foreign teachers.
As my Chinese business partner taught me, “The university’s job is to tell you what they want you to do, and your job is to live your life without telling them, in their faces, that you are not going to do it.” An occasional compromise doesn’t hurt, but don’t expect it to ever come from their side.
What I would do is to capitulate – tell them that you are not leaving Taiwan this summer, etc. etc… What day of the month do they pay you on? If it’s early, you could “go in” until that date, take the money and run. Can you take any leave before then (personal leave, sick leave, whatever? Check out the max number of days you can take sick leave without showing a doctor’s certificate.) If it’s late, simply not showing up might do the trick. Do you have any trusted colleagues? (I know that’s a loaded question…) Can you discreetly find out what days/hours others will be at school during the summer? It is completely unheard of for a professor to have anything to DO during the summer, unless s/he has a research project going (which it’s almost impossible for us to get money for, despite what the university admin always thinks), and most of them travel just like we do.
However, politely DO NOT sign anything, or, better yet, “fail” to sign anything (i.e, each time you have arranged to show up and sign, “something comes up” and you just can’t make it to sign that day, you’re really sorry, etc. etc.) My Chinese business partner from a few years back taught me that the best way to handle this kind of situation is to “fail to do it” gracefully and terribly apologetically…usually the people in question will not ask you to do whatever it was again, since you did not provide the goods.
Either that, or lie outright and tell them you WILL be teaching next year, then drop them. I know it sticks in your throat (probably) as we were mostly raised to be honest, but in face there is no honesty.
Don’t worry about anything they will hold over your head, UNLESS you are planning on another univesrity job in Taiwan – then you will need your “li2 zhi2 zheng4” or whatever they call it - the certificate that you left that school in good standing. That will impact your getting another job, and in some cases also will affect your “nian2 zi1” or seniority, on which your monthly pay at the new job will be based.
HTH but I’m not optimistic… this is part of the reason I got OUT of Taiwanese academe!
“In face there is no honesty”. Damn, but that’s got to be the best quote of the month, if not the year. Exactly right.
How’s about we make some T-shirts??
with “save no face” in big block letters on the back
hey it’s me again. I successfully left the job I mentioned in my first post, but not without giving up my pay for July (oh well). I’m at a much better university now.
I guess I just wanted to warn other teachers about some of these private rural universities. The place I was at last year (sorry I’m not going to print the name) was the worst. They threatened students with lawsuits over criticizing the school on the school’s BBS (sounds like they have something to hide). They gave teachers lots of extra duties for which they were not paid. If the director wasn’t happy with someone’s performance, the poor teacher was invited over to the school prez’s office for some angry shouting. And the administrators are a close nepotistic bunch. Anyway, it pays to look into a school before you sign the contract…
Can you at least give a hint of where it is?
You might explore your options with the Council on Labor Affairs – it’s astonishing what the law actually says when you sit down and read it…
Once in another job, your prospects for taking action against your prior employer are that much better, I would think. I’m sure the Ministry of Education might enjoy hearing about your experience as well…
I have experienced similar emotions, and come to similar conclusions, as to what ironlady has outlined above. However, I would say that her entire presentation of the matter is very, very well done.
If I have a chance to write a book about how “non-locals” should approach the issue of FACE in Taiwanese society, I will definitely ask ironlady to be co-author.
Thanks for your kind comments. I learned a lot reading YOUR book, “Harmony in Conflict” (is that the right title?) Lots of stuff that applies to Taiwan!
These days, my motto is, "Try to be sweet and compliant to their faces, then keep documents, tape record everything and be ready to send out those good ol’ Post Office Evidence Letters. Astonishing how they get people’s attention.