Concerns about political interference with academic freedom and institutional autonomy at local universities spread across the higher education community after the Pro-Vice-Channcellor controversy of the University of Hong Kong (HKU). On 9 Oct, the appointment of Julius Ho Kwan-yiu and solicitor Maggie Chan Man-ki to the Council of Lingnan University (LU) was gazetted. Ho, who is the former President of the Law Association and the former chairman of Tuen Mun District Rural Committee, have made many inappropriate speeches, including the request for the disbanding of the LU Students’ Union and criticizing some local social workers “fake and useless”. Chan is a member of the Wong Tai Sin District Council as well as a member of DAB. Their political background has made the society think that the appointments were again some kind of political rewards.
Ho: What should I do if I failed to protect the institutional autonomy?
On City Forum, an RTHK public affairs program, Philip Lau Chun-lam, President of Lingnan University Students’ Union demanded Junius Ho to promise to protect the academic freedom and institutional autonomy of Lingnan University. Ho just beat around the bush and refused to give any concrete answer, as he thought that there was no common and clear definition on “institutional autonomy”. He further replied to the reporters, “what should I do if I promised to do something for institutional autonomy but finally I failed?” Concerning the further actions of the Students’ Union, including the referendum and the request for amending the Ordinance in fight to remove the Chief Executive as the University’s Chancellor, Ho considered these actions useless and even wondered why students could not make more effort to their studies, instead of staging protests.
Another appointed Council member, Wong Kwan-yu, casting doubt on the legitimacy of Students’ Union on a radio program, pointed out that its legitimacy was not far from controversy even the members of Students’ Union were elected by students. Before that, Wong has fully supported the full implementation of national education in schools. It is very ironic that Wong challenged the legitimacy of the students’ union, but he is now serving as a Council member, whose post is not elected by the students nor teachers.
Council of the University is the administrative organ of the university which can exercise any power to control the operation of the university. As a Council member, it is one of their responsibilities to safeguard the academic autonomy and institutional independence for the university. However, those appointed members now even refused to make this simple promise, which makes us wonder if they are serving the university or serve as the representatives of the Chief Executive. 18 Council members, more than half of the Council, are appointed by the Chief Executive. Those CE-appointed Council members can control all the affairs of the university, which would likely undermine the institution independence. We hope that the ordinance should be reviewed as soon as possible, so that more teachers and students’ representatives can sit in the Council.
Establishing a Task Force for Reviewing the Ordinance
The Students’ Union of Lingnan University protested on 19 October to request the amendment of Lingnan University Ordinance to scrap the system where the Chief Executive is the University’s Chancellor. Rex Au-Yeung Pak-kuen, Council Chairman met the students with the President of Students’ Union and agreed to discuss in the next Council meeting whether a task force would be set up to look into the feasibility of amending the ordinance. However, this was a very preliminary suggestion and the Council might directly turn down the motion. Even a task force is set up, members of the task force may not be legitimate enough to put forward a proposal.
University President Leonard Cheng Kwok-hon criticized that the students’ protest would affect the normal operation of the Council. The Students’ Union responded that the Cheng’s criticism was unacceptable. And they also attributed the protest to the deaf ear turned by the Council which refused to communicate with students in an open and rational way.
Concern Group Established by Lingnan Alumni
Moreover, around 100 alumni of Lingnan University established “Lingnan Alumni Concern Group” on 21 Oct. Eddie Chan Shu Fai, one of the organizers and former President of the Students’ Union, stressed that the purpose of the Concern Group was to unite all the alumni to put forward the amendment of the Ordinance, so that the Chief Executive would no longer be the Chancellor of the University. The Concern Group is now drafting a joint declaration and seeking support and collecting opinions from other alumni.
Discussion on the Council Chairman Deferred in the CUHK
Moreover, Council meeting of the Chinese University of Hong Kong was also convened on 19 October. One of the agenda items was to discuss the selection of the next Council chairman. However, the meeting didn’t arrive at a conclusion before it ended. The term of office of the current Chairman expired on 23 October, and now the Vice-Chairman of the Council is now the Acting Chairman. The Students’ Union of the Chinese University, students’ unions of colleges, alunmi groups and staff organizations have already launched a signature campaign to demand that the chairman of the Council has to be acceptable by teachers, students, alumni of the Chinese University. The elected chairman should promise to protect the academic freedom and institutional autonomy of the University. For details of the signature campaign, please refer to the following link: http://goo.gl/forms/ZoDoBKhBiC
Junius HO Kwan-yiu is a candidate of Lok Tsui constituency of the Tuen Mun District Council Election, other candidates are HO Chun-yan, YUEN Wai-chung, CHEUNG Wing-wai, CHENG Chung-tai, and SHUM Kam-tim. Maggie CHAN Man-ki is a candidate of Ching Oi constituency of the Wong Tai Sin District Council Election, another candidate is MAK Tsz-ho.