The tables are turned.
One month after Arthur Li belittled Johannes Chan’s qualification to be a pro vice chancellor of the University of Hong Kong (HKU), the former education minister is facing questions about his own fitness to serve on the HKU council, let alone succeed to the chairmanship.
It’s yet another bizarre turn in the long-running saga that has been marred by accusations of government meddling and conspiracy theories.
Chan has been hardly heard from since the council rejected his nomination on Sept. 29 after numerous delays.
But on Wednesday, it was his turn to give Li a dose of his own medicine.
It came after Commercial Radio aired a secret recording of the Sept. 29 meeting in which Li is heard making disparaging remarks about Chan and declaring his interest in the chairmanship, soon to be vacated by Edward Leong.
Li stood by his comments, saying they were “above board” and “they make sense” and that he had no problem with the recording being leaked but he could not verify it.
As with most secret recordings, this one contained controversial nuggets others could pick a bone with.
“If you look at other referee professors, they all have LLDs [Doctor of Laws degrees]. Therefore, either he hasn’t tried or he is too busy or he doesn’t think it’s important.”
“Now can you … can someone be in charge of the promotion of other persons who actually has not gone through same rigors as that other person and give an honest, independent, objective view?”
“On the other side, a political party — is very organized and very well-informed — how would I say it? — very keen to push this candidate. As Leonie [Ki man-fung] said, by intimidation, by invading our council meeting, by having concern groups and all threatening JRs and everything. But I just wonder why … why is this political party so keen on this candidate?”
None of this would be so shocking except that similar details had been released by Billy Fung, a student representative to the council, shortly after the meeting which Li and other members immediately denied.
They called Fung a liar and on Tuesday they barred him from a council meeting and let it be known that he cannot attend future deliberations unless he explains himself and the members are satisfied with his answers.
Li is losing the argument over who has been lying.
And by declaring his candidacy for chairmanship, he has also opened himself up to more scathing criticism because now his integrity is being questioned.
Li’s main critic is no less than Chan who questions his fitness to succeed to the top job on the council. Chan called Li’s statements “deplorable” and a disservice.
The new wave of criticism comes on top of accusations Li is working on behalf of Leung Chun-ying to bring HKU under his thumb. An outspoken critic like Chan was the last thing the government needed.
The public is beginning to get a better sense of that, especially after hearing the recording.
Li is heard eliciting laughter as he argues against Chan while other council members don’t appear to be moving the discussions back on track.
It appears they were determined to get rid of Chan and less serious about acting on his nomination by a council-appointed search committee.
Now that the focus has shifted to Li, his past deeds are beginning to haunt him.
In a survey by the Professional Teachers’ Union, 74 percent of respondents from tertiary institutions don’t want Li to become council chairman against just 13 percent who do.
They don’t trust Li to defend academic freedom and institutional autonomy.
But given that the council is dominated by pro-establishment members, it’s not hard to imagine how this saga will end.
Good luck HKU.
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