Hundreds of people staged a march on Sunday to protest the appointment of Arthur Li Kwok-cheung as chairman of the governing body of the University of Hong Kong (HKU).
Denouncing the government’s perceived efforts to pack university bodies with pro-Beijing figures, the protesters called for protection of the autonomy of higher educational institutions and defense of local academic freedoms.
The march, which was organized by over 20 organizations including the HKU Alumni Concern Group, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union and various university student unions, started from Chater Garden in Central at 2:30 pm and concluded outside the Government House.
Organizers said more than 3,000 people took part in the rally but the police gave a much lower turnout figure, estimating the crowd to be around 830, Apple Daily reported.
The Hong Kong University Students’ Union was not among the organizers of the Sunday protest, but its chairperson Billy Fung King-yan was however seen taking part in the rally.
Protesters chanted slogans such as “Universities do not need party secretaries” and “Arthur Li, you will pay!”.
The slogans were a reflection of the feelings among large sections of society that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying had blatantly disregarded public opinion by appointing the controversial Li to the top post at HKU Council.
The protesters called for a revision of the university ordinances and demanded that the chief executive should not automatically become the chancellor.
Civic Party chairperson Audrey Eu, who is an HKU alumnus, said the current system ensures that the chief executive will be able to control the tertiary institutions through the councils and key members’ appointments.
Democratic Party founding chairman Martin Lee hit out at Leung and Li, saying they seem to be taking pleasure in splitting up society.
Lee said he was pleased to see members of other university student unions taking part in the Sunday protest. “If the HKU is taken under control, so will other universities,” he warned.
Occupy Central founder Benny Tai, who is an associate professor at HKU, said the appointment of Li by Leung Chun-ying is not just an issue concerning HKU or universities in Hong Kong, but rather one that concerns the governance of Hong Kong.
Professor Timothy O’Leary, Head of HKU’s School of Humanities and founder of a concern group called HKU Vigilance, said the protest was not just targeting Arthur Li, but rather the structure of universities.
O’Leary said there is a misconception that the government can intervene with university operations simply because of the subsidies provided to the institutions.
HKU Alumni Concern Group convenor Ip Kin-yuen said they will set up a special task force to closely monitor each and every move of Arthur Li during his tenure.
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