21 September 2018
HKU's staff and students say academic freedom is under threat due to political interference in the university's affairs. Photo: Facebook
HKU's staff and students say academic freedom is under threat due to political interference in the university's affairs. Photo: Facebook

HKU staff, students hold silent march to defend academic freedom

Around 2,000 students and staff of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) took part in a silent march Tuesday to outline their concern over perceived political interference in the university’s affairs.

Signaling their aim to defend academic freedom and institutional autonomy, the protesters began their march from the university’s Centennial Campus and went on to Sun Yat-sen Place, where they stood for a minute in silence.

Around 30 teaching staff wore their academic gowns while the others were dressed in black, Apple Daily reported.

The rally came a week after the HKU Council rejected the appointment of former law dean Johannes Chan as the pro-vice-chancellor in a controversial vote.

There was a big round of applause when former legislator Yeung Sum, who is now an assistant professor at the HKU’s Department of Social Work and Social Administration, announced the turnout figure for the silent march.

The turnout was equivalent to around a tenth of the university’s total staff and student population.

“We march in silence to demonstrate to ourselves and the city of Hong Kong what a university would be like if academic staff and students are silent,” said Professor Timothy O’Leary, Head of the School of Humanities.

O’Leary said the decision by the HKU Council on Chan is unacceptable, and that the academic freedom and university autonomy are under threat.

He insisted that Council chairman Leong Che-hung must offer valid reasons for their decision to reject Chan’s appointment.

O’Leary revealed that a group called “HKU Vigilance” will be set up following the silent protest to support staff who are under political pressure.

“We hereby warn the Chief Executive and Council chairman that we will no longer remain silent,” the professor said.

Associate professor Peter Cunich, who is set to retire in the near future, said many newly-hired teaching staff did not show up for the rally, despite supporting the protesters’ cause, as they were afraid that they would be victimized and that their career prospects would be jeopardized.

Hong Kong University Students’ Union (HKUSU) chairman Billy Fung Jing-en, who has made public the excuses given by other Council members for the Chan appointment rejection, said everyone must come out to defend the autonomy of the university.

Another protest is being organized Friday evening, in association with 18 other organizations.

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