By Avi Landau
It happened for the President of the Russian Federation. It happened for the President of The People’s Republic of China. The 45th President of the United States has repeatedly talked about it happening for him (though when taken to task about it by the press, he has insisted that he had only been joking). So with it apparently being the “in” thing, what the heck, why not the same for the President of the University of Tsukuba? And that is exactly what has happened. Last month, it was announced that the “term of Office” for President Kyosuke Nagata, which was to have ended, according to university rules, in March 2021 (after he has served 8 years), has been extended – indefinitely, making him a veritable “president for life”.
The announcement was made by Dr. Keiichi Kawada, Chairman of the “Presidential Election Committee”, who justified the decision by pointing to President Nagata’s great skill at procuring research funds for the university and his very good relations with various corporations, companies and other enterprises outside the university.
And while President-Elect Biden is having (at this very moment) to fight off rabid claims of massive voter fraud from the crazed supporters of his opponent (a man whose recent comments: “If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election,” will be the crying point for his loyal minions for weeks to come), and this announcement (the one at Tsukuba University, I mean) might, in comparison, seem trivial to you, it is, for many faculty members of the university (and other concerned citizens), no small matter.
For them, the decision announced by Dr. Kawada (former president of Kansai University) is a bald-faced affront to academic freedom and the autonomy of the university . It is also a slap in the face. The elimination of President Nagata’s term-limit, they say, was made in complete disregard of their (the faculty’s) opinion, which called for (according to a poll) the appointment of Professor Hiroshi Matsumoto as the new president (Matsumoto received 935 votes compared to Nagata’s 584). And though they do not deny that President Nagata (who I spot riding on the train every now and then) is a very hardworking, intelligent man with an excellent work record (as both a scientist – he is a molecular biologist and virologist – and an administrator) , they do point out the fact that the university has dropped considerably in academic ranking under his watch, and ask – “What kind of leadership is that?”
There is now a petition drive underway calling for the resignation of Dr. Kawada (the chairman of the Presidential Election Committee of the University of Tsukuba). And while there are those who are made complacent about the extension of President Nagata’s term by talk of his “bringing the money in” to the university, it’s good to see that there are also those willing to put up a fight for academic integrity and independence – and show that democracy still has some resilience here in Japan when forces rise up against it. Good luck with the petition!