July 28th was the darkest day in the history of the University of Hong Kong (HKU). What happened on that day makes the hearts of all HKU alumni and those who are concerned about its development ache.
Perhaps some people may wonder why the HKU alumni had to challenge the decision made by the HKU Council, which has been functioning so well for decades.
True, the HKU alumni rarely questioned the judgment or decision made by the Council in the past, because under the University of Hong Kong Ordinance, the Council is the supreme governing and decision-making body of HKU, and as long as it makes its decision according to established procedures and due process, nobody would ever need to challenge its authority.
Unfortunately, as far as the recent controversy surrounding the appointment of the pro-vice chancellor is concerned, the Council didn’t follow standard procedures and observe the long-standing tradition of the university.
To make matters worse, the Council has continued to delay the appointment and refuse to take a stand on the recommendation made by the recruitment committee, on the ridiculous and mind-boggling grounds that they have to wait for the advice of a deputy vice-chancellor who is not even hired yet.
If one connects the dots between some recent events such as the relentless attacks launched by pro-Beijing newspapers against Professor Johannes Chan, who has been widely tipped for the pro-vice chancellor slot, and the rumors that the Chief Executive has been attempting to interfere in the appointment of key personnel in the HKU, it is not difficult to notice that political interference has once again reared its ugly head in the recent appointment scandal.
Having said that, the HKU alumni are fully justified in demanding that the appointment proceed promptly in accordance with standard procedures, and that the Council stand up against any external political pressure when it comes to the appointment of key personnel of the HKU.
Some may also doubt whether the HKU alumni are in a legitimate position to question the decision of the Council, and whether it constitutes another form of interference.
According to the rules, members of the HKU include not only its staff and students at present, but also its graduates. Therefore, even though graduates have no governing power, they have every legitimate right to express their views about HKU affairs.
Besides, since the HKU is a publicly funded institution, stakeholders and members of the public are entitled to give their views on the governance of the university and demand from the Council to set things right.
Unfortunately, the decision made by the Council on Tuesday was both heart-breaking and outrageous.
According to newspaper reports, 12 members of the Council voted against proceeding with the appointment which had been long overdue, regardless of the dissenting voices raised by 1,536 HKU alumni, 909 supporters and the 21 organizations which had co-signed an open letter urging the university to respect procedural justice.
Those members of the Council who cast their votes to stall the appointment again in fact have not only failed to live up to the expectations of the alumni, but also committed a serious breach of public trust, causing irreversible damage to the hard-earned reputation of the HKU as the most respectable tertiary education institution in the territory.
What is even more alarming is that what happened to the HKU may not be an isolated case, and it seems a powerful political force behind the scene is continuing to get its claws into other universities, and the autonomy and academic freedom on our university campus promised under the Basic Law have come under unprecedented threat.
In accordance with the University of Hong Kong Ordinance, all graduates of the HKU are members of the HKU Convocation, and we have already called upon the incumbent convocation to summon an urgent meeting to vote on three resolutions:
1. The HKU Council must confirm the appointment of the pro-vice chancellor based on the recommendation of the recruitment committee, or else it must provide a written explanation;
2. The HKU must review the role of the Chief Executive as the HKU chancellor, and his role should be of a ceremonial nature only;
3. Passing a vote of no confidence against Council member Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung.
“To manifest the greatest virtues of man and to push back the frontiers of knowledge.” That’s the HKU motto which originates from the ancient Chinese classic The Four Books.
It teaches all HKU graduates to stand by their principles and convictions and persevere with what is morally right even when the odds are against them.
The article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 30
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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