History will remember the shameful day members of the University of Hong Kong council vetoed the appointment of Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun as a pro vice chancellor by a vote of 12 to 8.
This infamous decision will not only dent HKU’s hard-earned reputation but also have a profoundly negative impact on the “one country, two systems” policy guaranteed to Hong Kong in the Basic Law.
Edward Leong Che-hung, chairman of the HKU council, claimed that the decision it made regarding Chan’s appointment was based on the best and long-term interests of the university.
However, there are huge discrepancies between what he said and the firsthand account of Billy Fung Jing-en, chairman of the HKU Students’ Union, who is an ex-officio member of the council.
Some of the arguments Fung recalled certain council members making against Chan during the meeting couldn’t be more ridiculous.
He was astounded by the fact that these arguments came out of the mouths of some of the most prominent and respected members of our society’s elite.
I feel sorry for the HKU council chairman and the 12 members who voted against Chan’s appointment, because they didn’t have the courage to speak up and be candid with the public about the true reasons why they wouldn’t allow Chan to be the new pro vice chancellor.
All they did was use the principle of confidentiality as a shield.
As Professor Cheng Kai-ming, a former pro vice chancellor of HKU, pointed out in one of his newspaper articles, the HKU council owes the public a reasonable explanation as to why it vetoed Professor Chan’s appointment, because the matter has become the focus of public attention, and arguments like “for the sake of the long-term interest of the university” are anything but convincing.
Since members of the HKU council seem to be under a gag order, based on all the available information, I can only infer that Beijing would never allow anyone associated with the Occupy movement to become pro vice chancellor of HKU, regardless of the degree to which they were involved in the movement.
It is hard to tell whether or not Beijing will intensify its efforts to purge people it doesn’t like from the other seven public universities after it has succeeded in doing so at HKU.
However, it is difficult not to suspect that the recent decision of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to appoint two well-known pro-establishment figures to the governing board of Lingnan University could have been politically motivated, since the appointments came almost immediately after the HKU council voted against Chan’s appointment.
To me, what is truly alarming about the HKU appointment saga is not the relentless personal attacks against Chan, spearheaded by pro-Beijing newspapers since last November, but rather, the chilling fact that 13 prominent members of our society’s elite were brought into submission to Beijing so easily and that they were so eager to please their Beijing bosses by destroying procedural justice at HKU from within and violating the principles of transparency, openness and accountability they have pledged to uphold as HKU council members.
What is even more alarming is that what happened at HKU could only be the beginning, as there are a lot of intellectuals and members of the social elite out there who are ready and willing to go to any lengths to curry favor with Beijing, even at the expense of academic freedom, procedural justice and the judicial independence of our city, something that stands at the heart of our core values.
As an alumnus of HKU, I am absolutely indignant at the humiliation my beloved school was made to suffer.
And as a citizen of Hong Kong who was born and raised here, I feel obliged to come to the defense of “one country, two systems” and our core values that are protected by the Basic Law.
Unfortunately, I can foresee that political struggle in Hong Kong will get even more ferocious over the next two years, and more and more members of the local elite are going to betray their own values to gain favor with Beijing.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 22.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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