Senior academics in the University of Hong Kong’s law faculty have stood up for outspoken former dean Professor Johannes Chan, decrying repeated criticism of him by local pro-Beijing newspapers.
Chan is reportedly in the running for HKU’s pro-vice-chancellor, an appointment Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is said to be trying to block.
Chinese-language newspapers Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao have accused Chan of allowing the standard of scholarship in the faculty to decline during his time as dean.
Professor Fu Hualing, an associate dean of law and former head of the faculty’s department of law, said the left-wing papers’ campaign is a threat to the freedom of society, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported Friday.
“The repeated coverage in newspapers attacking a particular person and a particular university is a threat not only to academic freedom but to the freedom of the society as a whole,” Fu said.
He urged the people of Hong Kong to stand up and safeguard the city’s freedoms, which are not something to be taken for granted.
Fu, who specializes in human rights law, said he does not want HKU to become a politically closed and rigid-minded place.
“Perhaps we will not have democracy, but we should continue to enjoy freedom,” he said.
Professor Albert Chen Hung-yee, Chan’s immediate predecessor as dean, dismissed the pro-Beijing newspapers’ allegation that HKU’s law faculty focuses on political instead of academic matters.
Chen said academics who frequently talk to the local media about politics and legal matters account for only a small proportion of members of the faculty. In fact, he said, the faculty has a responsibility to spread knowledge of law to society.
The left-wing newspapers cited a University Grants Committee study of the quality of research in their criticism of the faculty’s work.
However, Professor Lusina Ho, the current head of the department of law, said the study was done by overseas scholars using foreign standards, without taking into account regional factors.
Professor Zhang Xianchu, a former associate dean of the faculty, urged the law school to hold on to its mission in promoting the rule of law in the city and its constitutional development.
Zhang said the law faculty faces challenges ahead, as it is now in the eye of a political storm.
He said members of the faculty have so far offered five proposals for electoral reform in Hong Kong, all of which are very constructive.
Translation by Vey Wong
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