Did he or didn’t he?
The question is beginning to hound Leung Chun-yin after reports he tried to block the appointment of Johannes Chan as executive vice president of the University of Hong Kong (HKU).
On Tuesday, former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau revealed in an article that a “very senior” government official had telephoned the university council and asked for Chan’s appointment to be set aside.
The next day, Apple Daily cited legal sources and a pro-democracy politician in directly linking Leung to the call.
At this writing, the Chief Executive Office had not responded to the allegations.
As university chancellor, Leung is the highest HKU official.
That makes him privy to the decisions of the council and the most powerful voice in its deliberations.
Few chancellors, however, have exercised such powers, at least not to the extent that these are apparently being used against one person.
Leung has done little to create the appearance of non-interference.
When he hosted a luncheon for council members on Wednesday, he sparked widespread speculation about his motives amid controversy over Chan’s case.
The timing was telling.
It came just weeks after he denounced a university student publication for supposedly advocating independence for Hong Kong. It was smack dab in the middle of criticism by pro-Beijing media of Chan’s tenure as dean of HKU’s law faculty.
Those keen to connect the dots could hardly have missed Beijing’s hand.
In November, the Communist Party issued a circular to mainland universities to promote “political correctness” and to follow the party’s direction.
In Hong Kong last month, Beijing’s Liaison Office chief, Zhang Xiaoming, called for increased efforts to prioritize “patriotic education” and urged students to have “positive” thoughts and feelings about China.
Are these two mere coincidence?
Evidently not, if Lau’s allegations are true.
Lau suggests the move on Chan is only the beginning of a wider shakedown. Benny Tai, co-founder of Occupy Central, whom the leftist media has accused Chan of coddling, could be the next target.
Not since the 1997 handover have our academic institutions been subjected to such political pressure.
A recent example is that of King’s College, a government secondary school, which prohibited students from conducting a mock referendum and banned them from doing a social media survey.
The students were told they were breaking school regulations.
In 2012, the government tried to introduce a national education program in Hong Kong but was forced to shelve it after parents and students, fearful of communist brainwashing, took to the streets in protest.
Lately, however, there have been incremental moves to push the curriculum via the backdoor, with calls to ramp up the study of modern Chinese history. That means post-1949 China, or the period after the communists took power.
These are tough times for our academic institutions which in normal times would be bastions of critical, independent thinking and excellence.
It would be a sad day for Hong Kong when our teachers and students are no longer able to freely think and speak.
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