Council of HKU violated its established code – Recommendation of appointment rejected

PTU News Reporter

After 8 months of negotiations, the Council of HKU formally rejected, on 29 September, the recommendation of HKU’s Search Committee for Professor Johannes CHAN, former Dean of Law, to be appointed as the University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic Staffing and Resources). IP Kin-yuen, Convenor of HKU Alumni Concern Group, condemned the Council for making the worst decision by rejecting the Search Committee’s recommendation and yet refusing to give any reasons for it. The decision has been described as “groundless”.

Council Vetoed the Appointment by 8 to 12

Dr LEUNG Che-hung, Chairman of the Council, announced that the Council had vetoed the recommendation to appoint Professor Johannes CHAN as Pro-Vice-Chancellor. LEUNG said the veto was “based on the long term and best interests” of HKU, but declined to reveal any reasons for rejecting the recommendation. Professor Peter MATHIESON, Vice-Chancellor of HKU, said that he was disappointed for not having been able to build a complete management team. In an interview with the Reuters earlier, he added that he could not rule out the possibility that Beijing was behind the episode.

Billy FUNG, President of HKU Student Union and a member of the Council, held a press conference after the Council meeting and read out a declaration, in which he revealed that the appointment was vetoed by 8 to 12.

FUNG: Arthur LI said Johannes CHAN was Unqualified

In his declaration, FUNG disclosed remarks made by several members of the Council. Some of the reasons for rejecting the recommendation were ridiculous. FUNG quoted Professor Arthur LI as saying that since Professor Johannes CHAN did not hold a doctoral degree, he was not qualified for the post of Pro-Vice-Chancellor. Ironically, Mr Douglas SO, who had been serving as Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Institutional Advancement) of the HKU, did not have any doctoral degree. Such a ‘reason’ of rejection could easily lead people to suspect that the Council was under political pressure to make a ‘self-contradictory’ decision.

In fact, Pro-Vice-Chancellors of many renowned universities do not hold any doctoral degrees. Examples include Mark HODGSON, who is the Vice-President for Administration and Business of HKUST; Harry LE GRANDE, Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs of UC Berkeley; and KE Yang, Executive Vice President of Peking University. Reported by Mingpao, a source close to the Council said Professor Peter MATHIESON has pointed out that the four senior academics on HKU’s Search Committee all considered Professor Johannes CHAN to be academically qualified to serve as a Pro-Vice-Chancellor. They did not find having no doctoral degree to be a problem.

HKU’s Centennial Foundation can be Destroyed by External Members of the Council

For the unreasonable decision taken by the Council, IP Kin-yuen, Convenor of HKU Alumni Concern Group, said he “feels extremely sad and bitterly indignant”. He condemned the Council for making the worst decision, which was contrary to the voices of the EGM of HKU’s Convocation held on 1 September, and yet refusing to give any reasons for its decision. IP considered that somebody was tightly holding appointments to senior positions in HKU by selectively appointing members to the Council. This “destroys institutional autonomy and academic freedom”, he said. The decision this time was clearly influenced by political considerations. He was worried that the 100-year foundation of HKU could possibly be ruined by Council members appointed from outside the University. Following the Council meeting, some alumni held a candlelight assembly at Sun Yat-sen Place in HKU campus to express their strong dissatisfaction with the Council.

HKU’s Academic Staff Association and HKU Alumni Concern Group issued a joint declaration to condemn the decision of the Council. They believed that the Council had the responsibility to reveal to the public the reasons for such an important decision, and that the Council should not let confidentiality override its established code, or allow members to make irrational decisions within a black box and damage the interests of the public. The Academic Staff Association of HKU will be conducting a survey to collect staff’s views on the Council’s decision. The HKU Alumni Concern Group is planning to hold a public forum shortly and urges Dr LEONG Che-hung to attend and explain to teachers, students and alumni the decision of the Council. The Alumni Concern Group will also conduct a survey of teachers and students to find out their views on the trustworthiness of some of the possible candidates for the Chairmanship of the Council.

The Future of HKU is in Danger

The terms of office for Dr LEONG Che-hung as Chairman of the Council will end on 6 November this year. By that time, LEUNG Chun-ying will probably have appointed a new Chairman for the Council. According to many news reports, Professor Arthur LI will possibly be appointed to this important position, which has caused worries among teachers, students and alumni. IP Kin-yuen thinks that LI’s track record in the tertiary education sector is really bad and that he cannot safeguard such core values as institutional autonomy and academic freedom. LI would render HKU a subsidiary body of the government. He is worried about the possibility of LI becoming the Chairman of the Council.

Professor Arthur LI, appointed by LEUNG Chun-ying as a member of the Executive Council, has become a member of HKU’s Council since March this year. After his appointment, LI has made many controversial remarks, including criticising some members of HKU staff for “failing to concentrate on their work”. Results of a survey published by HKU’s Academic Staff Association in April show that 85% of the staff did not trust LI and that, as suggested by his track record, he did not treasure institutional autonomy and academic freedom. They believed that LI would destroy HKU.