Friday, May 20, 2011

Degree of freedom

According to Wikipedia, degrees of freedom in mechanics mean independent displacements and/or rotations that specify the orientation of the body or system; degrees of freedom in physics and chemistry refer to a term used in explaining dependence on parameters, or the dimensions of a phase space; and degrees of freedom of statistics indicates the number of values in the final calculation of a statistic that are free to vary.

What does degree of freedom mean in our higher education, in particular, in relation to the school and its students? Before we put forth our definition, let’s look at these two cases.

National Taiwan Ocean University (國立台灣海洋大學) in Keelung, to tackle with the problem of students playing online games day and night nonstop in their dormitories, has decided to shut down their Internet services from 2 to 4 a.m. every Tuesday and Wednesday since this May. School authorities reiterated that this decision to disconnect the Internet was made out of good intent to urge students to go to bed early not to miss the classes next morning. The school said this policy would be extended from Monday through Friday started in Fall Semester if needed. What would the students say about the disconnection? Some claimed that they were not playing but searching data for academic purposes while others said they were considering moving out of dorms next semester.

A student of Vanung University of Science and Technology (萬能科技大學) was expelled from school for staging a sit-in to protest for not getting approval to set up a student club in January last year. This student filed a petition to the Ministry of Education for grievances. The student won the case and Vanung was asked by MOE to reinstate his status as a full-time student.

As Taiwan lifted the martial and entered a new democratic era in 1987, a number of complications inevitably came along. One of which was the interpretation and practice of the word freedom. Many considered they would be able to do whatever they had in mind from now on without restraints in any forms. This, of course, is a misunderstanding of the very essence of democracy. A sound democracy would never be possible without solid backup from law enforcement. The question remains whether we are making laws in time to block all the loopholes found by our ingenious citizens.

I do not consider shutting down Internet services a smart move to make students wake up early to catch up their first morning class. I believe there are better approaches to make sure students come to class on time without nodding with fatigue. Years ago when the personal computer was not even invented, were not university students of that time playing mahjong all night and missing their morning classes? What is the difference between playing mahjong with other three guys and playing it online?

That Vanung denied the application of its student to set up a student club because of its queer name was really not a clever move. The school should teach students how to be smart persons, but the school really needs not to bother doing anything if one of its students wants to make a fool out of himself.

Now comes to the definition for degree of freedom in school. What degree of freedom do our students expect? How much are our school authorities willing to give? I know most of my readers are young university students. I would very much like to hear your definition first.

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