Scholar Eric Sautede accuses the Catholic Foundation of Higher Education, presided over by the Bishop D. José Lai and the Tertiary Education Services Office (GAES), of being involved in the “brutal termination” of his contract. The Bishop and GAES both denied any involvement in the case.
In a farewell letter sent to all staff, students and alumni, the former lecturer of Asian Politics at the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) gave his version of the facts that lead to his controversial sacking.
USJ rector Peter Stilwell had stated earlier that the decision to end Sautede’s contract was related to his regular commentary on public affairs in local media. “As a Church institution, a Catholic university must be clear about where it stands. It must respect the autonomy of the political sphere, if it expects the political sphere to respect its academic autonomy,” the rector wrote in a letter sent to the Times and distributed by USJ’s scholars and students.
Stating that “the truth is slightly more complicated that what was stated” by the rector, Eric Sautede mentions three “alleged reasons” that led to his sacking: “A passing comment made earlier this year about the outgoing Chief Executive lacking charisma (…); the invitation made to Frank Dikotter to present his latest book on The Tragedy of Liberation in our university (…); and finally my demand to GAES regarding the financing of my attendance to the Conference of the European Association of Chinese Studies in Portugal, during which I will present a paper on party politics in Macau since the 1970s, a paper that has already been accepted as a book.”
The letter continues with a reference to the Catholic Foundation of Higher Education, whose involvement in the affairs of the university, according to Sautede, “has been ever more hands-on in the past year, scrutinizing all research projects and even suppressing research drives that had originally been given the okay to finance by the Macau Foundation.”
“Given the structure of the university, its status as a private entity and the recent “parting” of the previous rector, Ruben Cabral, it is simply impossible for the Catholic Foundation not to have encouraged the termination of my contract given the ‘local circumstances,’ to use the Fr. Peter Stilwell’s own words,” the letter reads.
Regarding GAES, Sautede speculates as to whether “the message [to end his contract] came directly from GAES or was simply over-interpreted by the Rector himself, as ‘these circumstances have so much to do with perception,’ again quoting Fr. Peter Stilwell.”
In the final section of the letter, the scholar listed some questions that he relates to academic freedom “enshrined in the Basic Law”:
“Why should we have a department of government studies, public administration or political science if we do not envision our own community as an object of study? What is the next thing that we should not research then? Urban planning, as it is too contentious? Social issues, as they bear the risk, once again, to question some of the options chosen by the government? And what about curricula: should we teach the Tiananmen repression? What bibliography should we choose when teaching contemporary China?”
Sautede argues that “the path chosen by the rector and the Catholic Foundation for Higher Education is not only dangerous, it is clearly contrary to the principle of ‘one country, two systems’ and contradicts several key points of the Basic Law.”
The scholar concludes his letter with a reference to a comment made by Peter Stilwell in the above mentioned letter: “Did financial issues figure in all this process? I will not deny that I was aware such concerns existed, whether real or imagined. But they were a minor disturbance, in pondering my decision,” the rector wrote.
Sautede says that to sustain the idea that “financial considerations” were a “minor disturbance” is “simply contrary to the truth.” “There was a time when dignity was considered of higher value. Money promised in 2007 will come and deficits might be reduced, but all this because of me being terminated? What about the identity of the university? If we let go with our European legacy, what is then our comparative advantage over the other local universities, both private and public?”
Prior to Sautede’s letter, alumni of the university handed a petition to the USJ administrators, asking them not to turn the university into a tool to suppress dissident views, as well as solicit the reinstatement of the senior lecturer and political commentator.
In an article published on July 7, the Times revealed first-
hand how several prominent figures, including the head of the Tertiary Education Services Office (GAES) Sou Chiu Fai and Bishop D. José Lai may have been among those who pressured the university to axe Eric Sautede. PB
IPM president praises academic freedom
The Macau Polytechnic Institute (IPM) president Lei Heong Iok has said that the scholars enjoy “total academic freedom” at the institution that is headed by him. “Some [IPM] professors are making or have made public comments on local politics. We never forbade them or took measures to prevent them from doing that,” he told TDM on the sidelines of the closing ceremony of a traineeship for Portuguese language teachers. “To safeguard the academic freedom in a tertiary education institution is crucial in assuring the quality of education and research. Without academic freedom, everything would be in vain,” he said. Lei Heong Iok refused to comment on the work done by other tertiary institutions in Macau.