Academics call on the Vietnamese Government to respect Academic Freedom [đối thoại]
In March 2014, in an unprecedented act which angered the academic community, Vietnam’s Hanoi University of Education suddenly announced the revocation of the Master’s degree in Language and Literature which it awarded to young writer Do Thi Thoan (pen name Nhã Thuyên) four years earlier, with maximum mark. The decision was made in secret and there was no proof or even accusation that any academic mistake or misconduct had been committed by the candidate.
This extraordinary event was almost certainly caused by political pressure from the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) itself. Prior to the revocation, a campaign was initiated in the state-controlled media to criticise the lack of political correctness of Nha Thuyen’s thesis and continues to this day. The revocation followed closed meetings by a panel of non-experts in the field of research involved. No reason was given for the revocation of the degree, in spite of requests for explanations from Nha Thuyen herself. A leaked document from “Ban Tuyen Giao”, the Propaganda and Political Education organ of the VCP, shows that they were issuing secret directives to the media to avoid reporting any adverse reaction to this affair. The octopus-like Ban Tuyen Giao, incidentally, is the organisation charged with ensuring that all thoughts and speech in the country follow the Party line, by guiding or manipulating the media and the entire education system.
Why is the Party so concerned about a Literature Master’s thesis? The research topic itself may provide an explanation. Titled “The Marginalized’s position: Open-Mouth Group’s poetic experiments from a cultural perspective”, the thesis explores the work of Mo Mieng (Open Mouth), a group of samizdat writers who often hold critical views of contemporary Vietnamese society and whose poetic experimentation is considered dirty or rude by the “Công an Văn hóa” (Cultural Police), an official and powerful branch of the Vietnamese security police. Their work has frequently been published overseas, but it is considered taboo inside Vietnam. Bùi Chát, one of the founding members, was awarded the 2011 Freedom to Publish Prize by the International Publishers Association. The Mo Mieng writers themselves have suffered frequent police harassment, including sometimes brutal beatings. Thus, even the act of researching their work and writing about it could have been construed by the Party as an act of defiance. Asides from the author herself, her research supervisor, Associate Professor Nguyen Thi Binh, had her employment contract terminated by the University.
In an unprecedented act of protest and solidarity, 70 members of the Vietnamese university and research community wrote an open letter on 19th April 2014 to the Hanoi National University of Education demanding that the revocation of Nha Thuyen’s Master’s degree be reversed. The following day, another open letter with 40 signatories, mostly overseas Vietnamese academics and scientists, supports the protest and calls for more academic freedom in Vietnamese universities. The latter also demands that the Vietnamese government conducts an investigation into the revocation and institutes measures to prevent the recurrence of political interference into academic affairs.
We attach the English versions of the above mentioned letters. We welcome any support from the international academic and research community. Should you wish to add your signature in support of academic freedom, please send your details to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Open letter from overseas Vietnamese academics.
2. Open letter from inland Vietnamese academics & researchers.
OPEN LETTER FROM OVERSEAS VIETNAMESE ACADEMICS
Violation of academic freedom in the revocation of Ms Do Thi Thoan’s Master’s degree
- Hanoi National University of Education
- The Ministry of Education and Training, Socialist Republic of Viet Nam
We, the undersigned, who are concerned about the Vietnamese education system, wish to register our strongest possible protest over the revoking of Ms Đỗ Thị Thoan’s Master’s degree in Language and Literature. We totally support the efforts by members of the Vietnamese education and research community to get this revocation reversed.
Đỗ Thị Thoan’s dissertation “The Marginalized’s position: Open-Mouth Group’s poetic experiments from a cultural perspective” (Vị trí của kẻ bên lề: thực hành thơ của nhóm Mở Miệng từ góc nhìn văn hóa) was awarded the maximum mark by an assessment committee of Hanoi National University of Education in 2010. However, inexplicably, in 2014 her Master’s degree was secretly reviewed by another committee, then revoked through Decisions 667/QĐ-ĐHSPHN (11 March 2014) and 708/QĐ-ĐHSPHN (14 March 2014). The author and her thesis supervisor were not allowed to present their case. The reasons for the decisions were not disclosed; in particular no evidence was presented to show that any serious academic mistake or misdemeanour has been committed. There were signs of outside interventions of a political, non-academic nature, aimed at pressuring the university into revoking Ms Thoan’s Master’s degree. Requests for explanations by Ms Thoan were virtually ignored by the University.
These actions directly violate regulations of the Ministry of Education and Training (Article 22, Decision 33/2007/QĐ-BGDĐT) according to which an academic degree can only be revoked if fraud has been committed, if the candidate is not qualified to receive the degree, if the degree has been awarded by a person unqualified to do so, or if the certificate has been illegally altered or used by another person. The manner in which the re-assessment of the thesis was carried out contravenes fundamental principles of justice, as its author and her supervisor were not given any opportunity to present their case, and no reason, argument, evidence or other supporting document concerning the decision has been disclosed.
The revocation of Ms Đỗ Thị Thoan’s degree represents a grave violation of academic freedom. As Einstein has said, “any restriction on academic freedom acts in such a way as to hamper the dissemination of knowledge among the people and thereby impedes national judgment and action”. Universities can contribute effectively to national development only if lecturers and students are free to research any topic they choose. The assessment of their work must be based solely on academic criteria and carried out by qualified experts. Degrees can be revoked only in cases of serious academic misconduct, such as plagiarism, data fabrication or ghost authorship.
In view of the above, we call on Hanoi National University of Education to annul the revocation of Ms Đỗ Thị Thoan’s Master’s degree and to disclose all documentation related to this matter. In addition, with the aim of building a healthy and modern education system for Viet Nam, we urge the Vietnamese government to investigate the circumstances leading to the re-assessment and revocation, and to institute measures for preventing future similar occurrences of covert, illegal interference with due process.
LIST OF SIGNATORIES
(To add your signature to this open letter, please send your details to email@example.com including your phone number, which maybe used by us to check your identity and will not be published).
1. Trần Nam Bình, Associate Professor, Australian School of Business, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.
2. Phạm Minh Châu, Professor, Université Denis Diderot (Paris VII), France; and University of Science and Technology of Hanoi (USTH), Hanoi, Vietnam.
3. Phạm Đỗ Chí, Ph.D., former visiting Associate Professor of economics and finance, MBA program, American University, Washington, DC., USA.
4. Valentina Denzel, Assistant Professor, Michigan State University, USA.
5. Trần Hữu Dũng, Professor (ret.), Department of Economics, Wright State University, Ohio, USA.
6. Giáp Văn Dương, Ph.D., founder of GiapSchool, Hanoi, Vietnam.
7. Phạm Văn Đỉnh, Ph.D., Lecturer (ret.), University of Pau and Pays de l’Adour (UPPA), France.
8. Đỗ Anh Đức, Ph.D in Media & Communication, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.
9. Nguyễn Ngọc Giao, Lecturer (ret.), Université Denis Diderot (Paris VII), editor Dien Dan Forum, France.
10. Đỗ Đăng Giu, Professor (ret.) and former Research Director of CNRS, University of Paris-Sud, France.
11. Evelyne Grossman, Professor, Université Denis Diderot (Paris VII), France.
12. Trần Hải Hạc, Associate Professor (ret.), University of Paris Nord (Paris XIII), Paris, France.
13. Nguyễn Trọng Hiền, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91109, USA.
14. Nguyễn Đức Hiệp, Ph.D., Senior Atmospheric Scientist, Office of Environment & Heritages, New South Wales, Australia.
15. Nguyễn Công Huân, Associate Professor, Faculty of Engineering and Science, Aalborg University, Denmark.
16. Nguyễn Mạnh Hùng, Professor (ret.), Department of Economic Science, Université Laval Québec, Canada.
17. Nguyễn Đăng Hưng, Professor Emeritus, Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, University of Liege, Liege, Belgium.
18. Phạm Xuân Huyên, Professor, Université Denis Diderot (Paris VII), France; and John Von Neumann Institute (JVN), VNUHCM, HoChiMinh City,Vietnam.
19. Hoàng Kháng, Research Scientist, North Dakota State University, North Dakota, USA.
20. Đỗ Khiêm, Writer, La Habra Heights, California, USA.
21. Lê Xuân Khoa, former Vice-Rector of Saigon University, former Adjunct Professor, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, USA.
22. Thùy Linh, Writer, Hanoi, Vietnam.
23. Ngô Vĩnh Long, Professor, Department of History, University of Maine, Maine, USA.
24. Nguyễn Thùy Phương, Ph.D., Paris Descartes University, Paris, France.
25. Đặng Xuân Thảo, Ph.D., VERIMAG (CNRS) Laboratory, Grenoble, France.
26. Ngô Đức Thế, Ph.D., Scientist, Department of Micro-and Nanotechnology, Technical University of Denmark, Denmark.
27. Đặng Đình Thi, Ph.D., Department of Aerospace Engineering, University of Bristol, UK.
28. Phạm Duy Thoại, Professor, Vivantes Klinikum Neukoelln, Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany.
29. Đoàn Ánh Thuận, Writer, Paris, France.
30. Lê Đoàn Trung, former Research Director of CNRS, University of Paris- Sud, France.
31. Nguyễn Khánh Trung, Ph.D in Sociology, Vendée, France.
32. Dương Văn Tú, Ph.D student in Pharmaceutical Technology, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.
33. Vũ Văn Tuân, Marie Curie Early Researcher, School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, UK.
34. Phạm Quang Tuấn, Associate Professor, School of Chemical Engineering, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.
35. Nguyễn Văn Tuấn, Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.
36. Hoàng Thanh Tùng, Ph.D student in Chemistry, Florida State University, USA.
37. Hà Dương Tường, Professor (ret.), Université de Technologie de Compiègne, Compiègne, France.
38. Nguyễn Đức Tường, Professor (ret.), University of Ottawa, Canada.
390. Vũ Quang Việt, Ph.D., former Chief of National Accounts Section, United Nations Statistics Division, United Nations, New York, USA.
40. Phạm Xuân Yêm, Professor (ret.) and former Research Director of CNRS, Université Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris VI), Paris, France.
OPEN LETTER FROM INLAND VIETNAMESE ACADEMICS & RESEARCHERS
To: Associate Professor Nguyễn Văn Minh,
President, Hanoi National University of Education
We the undersigned, members of the Vietnamese education and scientific research communities, wish to inform you that:
1. We protest against the University’s Decisions 667/QĐ-ĐHSPHN of 11 March 2014 and 708/QĐ-ĐHSPHN of 14 March 2014 concerning the rejection of Ms Đỗ Thị Thoan’s Master’s dissertation and revocation of her Master’s degree in Language and Literature, and request that you annul these decisions, which are both illegal and illogical:
1.1 According to the Regulations on Education at the Master’s Level, which was issued together with the Ministry of Education and Training’s Circular 10/2011/TT-BGDĐT (28 February 2011), there is no legal basis for a so called “review” of an already assessed Master’s dissertation. These regulations concern only the review of student admission outcomes (Article 19), not that of dissertation assessment outcomes or of dissertation assessment committees. Article 26 of the said regulations covers the whole assessment procedure, including the formation of the assessment committee, the calling of committee meetings and thesis assessment criteria; nowhere does it allow the establishment of a committee to review an already assessed thesis.
1.2 These unilateral decisions, which are unsupported by any documentation as normal practice requires (decisions to establish the review committee and to call a meeting, evaluations of individual committee members, report of meetings, etc.), as well as the secretiveness of the meetings, are extremely grave violations of Clause 1, Article 26 of the said Regulations.
1.3 Clause 1, Article 22 of the Regulations on Degrees and Diplomas of the National Education System, issued together with the Ministry of Education and Training’s Decision 33/2007/QĐ-BGDĐT (26 June 2007), stipulates five possible specific reasons for revoking a degree: a) fraudulent activities during studies, in examinations, in the student admission procedure, or in the documentation of the award; b) degree having been awarded to unqualified person; c) degree having been awarded by unqualified person; d) tampering with or altering certificate; or e) degree having been used by another person. None of these apply in Ms Đỗ Thị Thoan’s case, and therefore the revocation of her Master’s degree contravenes these Regulations.
2. We request that you make public the entire process leading to the above two decisions by Hanoi National University of Education, in the spirit of compliance with legally binding regulations.
3. From legal as well as academic practice considerations, the review of the dissertation The Marginalized’s position: Open-Mouth Group’s poetic experiments from a cultural perspective infringes upon the legal authority and prerogative of the dissertation assessment committee, supervisor and author, as they were never informed about in the review process and never allowed to participate.
We request that the scientific authority and repute of the Dissertation Assessment Committee, of the supervisor and of the author be properly taken into account in any action or decision relating to a dissertation. They must be able to participate in all activities and decisions relating to the dissertation, as stipulated by regulations.
We look forward to your reply.
LIST OF SIGNATORIES
1. Bùi Thanh Truyền, Ph.D. (Vietnamese Literature), Lecturer, Department of Literature, Ho Chi Minh City University of Education, Ho Chi Minh City.
2. Bùi Trân Phượng, Ph.D. (History); University Lecturer, Ho Chi Minh City.
3. Châu Minh Hùng, Ph.D. (Theory Literature), University of Quy Nhơn, Quy Nhơn, Bình Định
4. Chu Hảo, Ph.D. (Physics), Vice President, Phan Chu Trinh Cultural Foundation, Ha Noi.
5. Chu Văn Sơn, Ph.D. (Literature), Lecturer, Department of Literature, Hanoi National University of Education, Ha Noi.
6. Đặng Thị Hảo, Ph.D. (Literature), Ha Noi.
7. Đào Tiến Thi, M.A. (Literature), Researcher in Literature, Linguistics and Education; Member, Executive Committee of Vietnam Assosciation of Linguists, Ha Noi.
8. Đỗ Thị Hoàng Anh, M.A. (Linguistics and Literature), Teacher, Chu Van An High School, Ha Noi.
9. Đỗ Hải Ninh, Ph.D. (Vietnamese Literature), Institute of Literature, Ha Noi.
10. Đỗ Ngọc Thống, Assoc. Professor of Literature, Researcher in Theory and Teaching Methodology of Linguistics and Literature, Ha Noi.
11. Đỗ Xuân Khôi, Ph.D., Lecturer, Ha Noi University of Technology, Ha Noi.
12. Đoàn Ánh Dương, M.A. (Literature), Researcher in Theory and Modern Vietnamese Literature, Institute of Literature, Ha Noi.
13. Hà Sĩ Phu, Ph.D. (Biology), Former Lecturer, Dalat.
14. Hà Thúc Huy, Assoc. Professor, Ph.D. (Chemistry), University Lecturer, Ho Chi Minh City.
15. Hồ Thị Hoà, M.A. (Communication), University Lecturer, Ho Chi Minh City
16. Hồ Tú Bảo, Professor, School of Knowledge Science, Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST), Ishikawa, Japan; and John Von Neumann Institute (JVN), VNUHCM, HoChiMinh City, Vietnam
17. Hoàng Dũng, Assoc. Professor (Linguistics), Department of Linguistics and Literature, Ho Chi Minh City University of Education, Ho Chi Minh City.
18. Hoàng Hưng, Poet, Researcher in Contemporary Vietnamese and World Poetry, Ho Chi Minh City.
19. Hoàng Phong Tuấn, M.A. (Literature), Lecturer, Ho Chi Minh City University of Education, Ho Chi Minh City.
20. Hoàng Tố Mai, Ph.D. (Literature), Researcher, Vietnam Institute of Literature, Ha Noi.
21. Huỳnh Ngọc Chênh, B.Sc. (Chemistry), Former Teacher, Phan Chu Trinh High School, Da Nang.
22. Lê Minh Hà, Assoc. Professor, Department of Mathematics, Mechanics and Information Technology, VNU Hanoi University of Science, Ha Noi.
23. Lê Thanh Loan, M.A. (Literature), Teacher, Chu Văn An High School, Ha Noi.
24. Lê Thu Phương Quỳnh, M.A. (European Culture and Literature), Room to Read Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City.
25. Lê Tuấn Huy, Ph.D. (Philosophy), Ho Chi Minh City.
26. Mai Thái Lĩnh, Teaching Assistant, Division of Philosophy, Faculty of Liberal Arts, Dalat University (1970-1971), Vice Rector, Thang Long High School (1975-1988),
27. Ngô Thị Ngọc Diệp, Ph.D. (Vietnamese Contemporary Literature), Lecturer, Gia Lai School of Education, Gia Lai.
28. Ngô Văn Giá, Assoc. Professor of Literary Theory, Head of Department of Journalism and Writing, Ha Noi University of Culture, Ha Noi.
29. Nguyên Ngọc, writer, President, Phan Chu Trinh Cultural Foundation, Ha Noi.
30. Nguyễn Đăng Hưng, Professor, Academic Advisor, Vietnam Germany University, Ho Chi Minh City.
31. Nguyễn Đăng Quang, Head of Education and Reasoning Section, Central Office of Thought and Culture (1991-1996), Head, Department of Philosophy, Hanoi University of Business and Technology (1996-2014)
32. Nguyễn Đình Cống, Professor, University of Construction, Ha Noi
33. Nguyễn Đông Yên, Professor (Mathematics), researcher and teacher in mathematics, Ha Noi.
34. Nguyễn Đức Hiệp, B.A. (Physics), high school teacher (ret.), Ho Chi Minh City.
35. Nguyễn Hoài Anh, M.A. (Literature), Teacher, Chu Văn An High School, Ha Noi.
36. Nguyễn Hoàng Ánh, Assoc. Professor, Lecturer, University of Foreign Trade, Ha Noi.
37. Nguyễn Hoàng Diệu Thuỷ, M.A. (Literature), alumni of Department of Literature, Hanoi National University of Education, Ha Noi.
38. Nguyễn Huệ Chi, Professor of Literature, Former Chair of Academic Council, Vietnam Institute of Literature, Ha Noi.
39. Nguyễn Hữu Việt Hưng, Professor, Department of Mathematics, Vietnam National University Ha Noi, Ha Noi.
40. Nguyễn Mạnh Tiến, M.A. (Literature), Researcher in Ethnography and Literature, Ha Noi.
41. Nguyễn Nam Hải, M.A. (Information Technology), Former Lecturer, University of Technology, Vietnam National University Ha Noi, Ha Noi.
42. Nguyễn Phương Chi, B.A (Literature), Vietnam Institute of Literature, Ha Noi.
43. Nguyễn Quang A, Ph.D. Former Professor, Budapest University of Technology, Former Dean, Department of Information Technology, Hanoi National University of Education, Ha Noi.
44. Nguyễn Thế Hùng, Professor; Vice President, Association of Vietnamese Fluid Mechanics Association, Da Nang.
45. Nguyễn Thị Bình, Assoc. Professor of Literature, Former Head of Division of Contemporary Vietnamese Literature, Department of Literature, Hanoi National University of Education, Ha Noi.
46. Nguyễn Thị Hương Thuỷ, M.A. (Literature), Teacher, Chu Văn An High school, Ha Noi.
47. Nguyễn Thị Khánh Trâm, Researcher in cultural studies, Ho Chi Minh City
48. Nguyễn Thị Từ Huy, Ph.D., Former Lecturer, Department of Literature, Hanoi National University of Education, Ho Chi Minh City.
49. Nguyễn Văn Long, Assoc. Professor, People’s Teacher, Former Head of Division of Vietnamese Contemporary Literature, Department of Literature, Hanoi National University of Education, Ha Noi.
50. Nguyễn Xuân Diện, Ph.D. (Literature), Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, Ha Noi.
51. Phạm Toàn, education researcher, founder of Canh Buom Group, Ha Noi.
52. Phạm Minh Gia, Ph.D. (Economics), Ha Noi.
53. Phạm Quốc Lộc, Ph.D. (Comparative Literature), Dean, Department of Culture and Linguistics, Hoa Sen University, Ho Chi Minh City.
54. Phạm Thị Ly, Ph.D. (Comparative Linguistics), International Education Institute, Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City.
55. Phạm Thị Phương, Assoc. Professor of Literature, Department of Literature, HCM City University of Education, Ho Chi Minh City.
56. Phạm Xuân Nguyên, Head of Division of Comparative Literature, Institute of Literature, Ha Noi.
57. Phan Hồng Hạnh, M.A. (Literature), Teacher, Chu Văn An High School, Ha Noi.
58. Phan Thị Hà Dương, Assoc. Professor of Mathematics, Institute of Mathematics, Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, Ha Noi.
59. Phan Thị Hoàng Oanh, Ph.D. (Chemistry), Lecturer, Ho Chi Minh City University of Education, Ho Chi Minh City.
60. Phùng Hoài Ngọc, M.A. (Literature), Former Lecturer, An Giang University, An Giang.
61. Trần Đình Sử, Professor of Literature, Hanoi National University of Education, Ha Noi.
62. Trần Đức Anh Sơn, Ph.D. (History), Deputy General Director, Da Nang Institute of Social and Economic Development; Chief Editor, Da Nang Journal of Social and Economic Development, Da Nang.
63. Trần Hữu Tá, Assoc. Professor of Literature, Ho Chi Minh City University of Education, Ho Chi Minh City.
64. Trần Ngọc Vương, Professor of Literature, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Ha Noi.
65. Trần Ngọc Hiếu, Ph.D. (Literature), Department of Literature, Hanoi National University of Education, Ha Noi.
66. Trần Quang Đức, Researcher in Literature, History ; Division of Comparative Literature, Vietnam National Institute of Literature, Ha Noi.
67. Trịnh Thu Tuyết, Ph.D. (Literature), Lecturer in Contemporary Literature, Ha Noi.
68. Tương Lai, Former General Director, Vietnam National Institute of Social Sciences, member of Consulting Group serving the Former Prime Minister Võ Văn Kiệt, Ho Chi Minh City.
69. Vũ Thế Khôi, Ph.D., Former Head, Department of Russian, Ha Noi University of Foreign Languages, Ha Noi.
70. Vũ Thị Phương Anh, Ph.D. (Education), Former Director, Center for Educational Quality Assessment and Testing, Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City.