The vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong (HKU), Peter Mathieson, has defended the university governing council’s decision to eject a student representative from a meeting Tuesday, saying the action was nothing personal.
The council is within its powers to exclude a member if it feels such action is necessary to ensure the smooth conduct of a meeting, Mathieson said, adding that legal advice was sought before the move.
Council members are entitled to the right to protect their safety, the vice-chancellor said Thursday, after Billy Fung King-yan, former president of the HKU Students’ Union, was expelled from a university council meeting two days earlier.
Fung was barred from the meeting, which took place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC), after he refused to sign a pledge that he won’t do anything that could endanger the safety of the members, media reports said.
Mathieson pointed out that the university governing body has student representation even without Fung.
However, he admitted that the controversy won’t help in terms of communication between the university authorities and the student community.
Mathieson said he will meet up with the newly elected leaders of the Students’ Union over lunch on Friday to learn more about their opinions.
He explained that it was out of safety concerns that the HKU Council meeting this week was held at the HKCEC and not on the university campus.
He added that legal advice had been sought before asking Fung to sign a pledge, and that the university had video evidence that suggested that Fung may jeopardize the safety of council members.
In other comments, Mathieson said it has been a challenging period for him in the recent past, as the broader environment in Hong Kong has become complex.
He is surprised at the attention that university council affairs are getting from society, Mathieson said, but added that he would see it as a challenge and that he will do his best in his role as vice-chancellor.
He added that HKU will provide the necessary assistance to students who were arrested or facing prosecution on riot charges.
Commenting on the rise of localism, Mathieson said HKU will retain its politically-neutral character.
Council member Man Cheuk-fei said he doesn’t think Fung has caused discomfort to other governing body members at the meeting on Tuesday.
It is not an ideal situation to have no representation from undergraduate students on HKU Council, he said.
Fung was the only undergraduate representative on the university’s governing body.
Robert Chung, Director of HKU’s Public Opinion Programme, said it is regrettable that the council moved its meeting venue off campus, a place ideal for free exchange of ideas.
Teachers should try to be understanding and forgiving, and seek to resolve problems through communications, even if students have acted wrongly, Chung said.
Council member Eric Cheung Tat-ming, who had voiced objection to ejection of Fung from the meeting, was accused by council chairman Arthur Li Kwok-cheung of being “very selfish”.
Cheung didn’t bother to think about the safety of other council members, Li said.
Asked for his response to Li’s comments, Cheung said that he won’t be bothered by others’ comments or critique.
But he said that he fears that the persistently provocative stance and comments of Li will only intensify conflicts, which will not be in HKU’s best interests.
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