Steadfast educator and university architect — Dr. Yuhlong Oliver Su
Witty, diligent, and steadfast, Dr. Yuhlong Oliver Su is the current president of National Chi Nan University and the son of Taiwanese glove puppetry artists. He credits his childhood experiences of traveling with the family troupe and helping out with performances for developing his quick responses and stress management skills. Moreover, his parents’ emphasis on the two Hs — “honesty and hard work” — has been the motto that he lives by.
As a studious child from Taitung, Su holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from National Taiwan University (NTU), a master’s degree in chemistry from National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU), and a Ph.D. from Ohio State University (OSU). He worked as a research associate at Princeton University before returning to Taipei as an NTU professor — an esteemed position that he vowed to achieve during his undergraduate years there, and one that he held at the chemistry department for over two decades.
Dr. Su sees his pre-NCNU life in largely three stages grouped by purpose: his Taitung years from childhood through high school, those academic years spent pursuing degrees in Taipei and the US, and the aforementioned NTU decades as a professor of chemistry. His profound love and respect for NTU, however, have since been transferred to NCNU.
“I’m afraid I somewhat cheated [on NTU], my love and loyalty now belong to NCNU,” Su jokes, for his time with this Nantou university outweighs even the twenty-some years spent with the Taipei university. And the serendipitous moment that made this possible was in 1998, when NCNU President Yuan Song-shi (袁頌西) recruited Su to help launch the university’s chemistry department and plan out its academic focus.
Looking back on those pioneering days, Su remains full of gratitude for former NTU colleagues such as chemist Shie-ming Peng (彭旭明), Tse-wen Chang (張子文) and engineer Tsong-pyng Perng (彭宗平), who all frequently made the four-hour journey from Taipei to Puli by car, highway bus, or even plane via Taichung airport and then transferring to bus. With their input, Su envisioned a new departmental framework with a practical emphasis on the biological, material, and analytical aspects of chemistry.
At one point, there were about 20 professors who were temporarily transferred from NTU to NCNU during the latter university’s preparatory and founding stages, in which they approached each challenge as if they were tasked with establishing a southern branch of NTU. Even when the majority of NTU personnel returned to Taipei, Dr. Su remained behind to support the newly elected President Jin-fu Chang (張進福, also known as JF Chang) and took up the post of NCNU’s general affairs chief.
President Chang, who joined NCNU in 2000, led the school’s reconstruction efforts in the wake of the deep devastation wrought by a 7.3-magnitude earthquake in 1999. His humanistic vision for a post-reconstruction era, which was guided by compassion and led with knowledge, was welcomed by many members of the campus community. Dr. Su was by his side, helping facilitate landmark projects such as the NT$275-million humanities building and the NT$400-million library.
From strategist to co-architect of the university, Dr. Su found his heart growing fonder of both NCNU and Puli, and when his “transferred” status at NTU could no longer be extended, he chose to give up tenure in Taipei and remain in central Taiwan, embracing the start of his post-NTU life with commitment and clarity. He was appointed university president in 2012.
Under Su’s leadership, NCNU has been blossoming along the three axis of sophistication, specificity, and internationalization. Sophistication refers to the pursuit of refinement, a mindset of aiming for excellence in all aspects. “This has been my approach towards school governance and deepening the foundational roots of NCNU,” he explains.
Specificity refers to the unique merits of each school, for “we are not just another public university.” Next up is internationalization, which has always been one of the university’s founding values based on the intrinsic qualities of NCNU, in which the school name means “Southbound.”
20 task units comprising nearly 300 faculty members are steadily transforming NCNU into central Taiwan’s foremost cradle of humanistic, insightful, and passion-driven research and education. NCNU has the highest international-to-local student ratio among Taiwanese universities, as well as one of the most comprehensive programs for training talents for the Southeast Asian markets.
Noting that Taiwan’s future development depends on internationalization, President Su points to NCNU’s stellar programs for learning English, Japanese, and European languages, and how the university has been working with Southeast Asian partners for over two decades. NCNU is well-equipped with academic resources and teachers for enhancing the global mobility of both international and local students.
Moreover, a university education is also about holistic life skills — ethical, intellectual, physical, and team-playing acumen, Su points out. “I hope our students are never just preparing for graduation; they should be preparing for the post-school days ahead.”
Su’s emphasis on lifelong exploration and work-life equilibrium is reflected in the many new programs launched by the university over the years, including those devoted to newly popular industries such as tourism, hospitality and dining, social marketing, and the creative sector; managerial courses for those interested in joining or starting non-governmental organizations; and remote or evening degree programs developed respectively for managerial talents on both side of the Taiwan Strait, indigenous students, elderly citizens, and working adults.
The president also outlined his hopes for NCNU to become a major player in promoting sports in Taiwan, from assisting regional authorities with planning athletic affairs to training new athletes and sports professionals. To take advantage of its proximity to Taiwan’s famed Sun Moon Lake, the university also seeks to host a variety of water games and competitions, which will in turn bolster the region’s tourism and enhance the quality of campus life.
“As a comprehensive college, NCNU does not offer a sports department, but we have embraced our natural environment and beautiful surroundings by developing athletic programs for rowing, archery, softball, taekwondo, and swimming; a special recruitment process was even held for the swimming program this year,” states Su. “This is the beauty of NCNU’s approach to athletics — small in scale but pertinent, focused, and fully backed by the school.”
Dr. Su stresses that NCNU has also been investing in the sustainable development of the campus and its surrounding regions for a long time. For example, the university maintains a 79.8% green coverage of lawns, trees, and foliage on its 150-hectare campus. As a green university and a development center for sustainable energy, NCNU’s earliest blueprints include water-recycling facilities for processing waste water into grey water used for flushing toilets, watering plants, and irrigating butterfly habitat areas.
The school’s management of energy efficiency has also been bolstered by such efforts as leasing solar photovoltaic equipment that will generate an estimated 1.5 megawatts of power, making NCNU the first project site in the government’s green energy roof program to challenge the 1-megawatt benchmark. For the president believes that in this era of globalization, the promotion of sustainable development has become an essential task for academic institutions.
To perpetuate the university spirit of serving the community, the three main operational frameworks of NCNU’s roadmap to sustainability, according to President Su, are: the consolidation of departmental and student initiatives for university social responsibility, the identification of individual key markers to track the school’s progress in meeting each of the 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) set forth by the United Nations, and the transition of NCNU to a fully eco-conscious, certified-green university.
“Our vision is to be a world-renowned university that is excellent in teaching, innovative research, and community engagement. We aspire to enrich the economic vitality, environmental sustainability, and quality of life in central Taiwan and beyond.
My educational philosophy aims to invigorate our students by promoting balanced learning in all areas of knowledge, cultivating a caring and empathetic outlook in life, and pursuing excellence in all endeavors. This is a mission that I am fully committed to.
Together, we here at NCNU are devoted to creating a community conductive to the balanced intellectual, physical, and social growth of all members. I extend my warmest invitation for you to join NCNU.”
*This article is compiled from information sourced from "25 Years of NCNU: The First Radiant Chapter," a publication edited and released by the NCNU Department of History in September 2020.
*Dr. Yuhlong Oliver Su (蘇玉龍) has served as president of National Chi Nan University since 2012. He is also a professor of applied chemistry who specializes in electroanalytical and porphyrin chemistry. He will retire from his current position as NCNU president on Dec. 8, 2020. Election preparations are underway and the term of the 8th president will start on Feb. 1, 2021. The school board has appointed Dr. Su as interim president for the duration of Dec. 9, 2020 through Jan. 31, 2021.