Since last year it has become increasingly apparent that Leung Chun-ying’s administration is getting its claws into every segment of our higher education sector in order to take full control of our tertiary institutions.
It is hardly any exaggeration to say that the long-established autonomy and academic freedom of our universities are now under threat of unprecedented proportions.
Obviously, Leung’s systematic violation of our universities’ autonomy has become an issue that concerns not only the higher education sector but also the entire society.
If we remain silent and allow Leung to keep on throwing his weight around like that, what is happening to our universities today could happen to any other sector of society tomorrow.
After all, it is the built-in flaws and legal loopholes in our system that give Leung the opportunity to infiltrate our universities.
He is taking advantage of these structural flaws to appoint his own people to the governing bodies of our universities so that he can pull the strings behind the scene and eventually take full control of the internal affairs of our higher education institutions.
It is time for us to correct those flaws and close the loopholes in order to prevent him from interfering in the internal affairs of our universities and infringing our academic freedom at will.
To be more precise, we must amend our laws to change the structure and composition of the governing boards and councils of our universities to avoid infiltration by the authorities, strengthen protection of academic freedom, and make higher education immune to political interference.
In order to gather the views of our fellow students and teaching staff on this fundamental issue and create a bottom-up mandate for change, the unions of the eight universities, the Scholars’ Alliance for Academic Freedom, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union and the Hong Kong University Alumni Concern Group will be jointly conducting a referendum on March 21 to 22 on the following two motions:
1. To officially abolish the chief executive’s power to appoint members to the governing bodies of all of our universities.
2. To increase the proportion of elected members representing teaching staff, research students and undergraduate students in the governing bodies of our tertiary institutions.
At present about 30 percent of the members of governing bodies of our eight universities are appointed by the chief executive.
However, for the Lingnan University and the Hong Kong Institute of Education, it is well over 50 percent. For some universities appointed members even account for 80 percent of their governing board.
There is basically no public or legislative oversight of the chief executive’s appointees to the governing bodies of universities.
As a result, CY Leung has continued to appoint controversial or unpopular figures such as Arthur Li Kwok-cheung to university councils as a form of “political reward” for his allies and supporters.
Only by restricting the chief executive’s power to appoint his own people to university governing bodies can we ensure the autonomy of the higher education sector.
On the other hand, it is also a pressing task to address the issue of low representation of teaching staff and students in the governing bodies of our universities. For example, even to this day there is still not a single elected member representing students or teaching staff in the governing board of the Chinese University.
The majority of the members appointed to these governing boards are either social elites from other sectors or the so-called “Leung’s Fans” (梁粉), who are not necessarily familiar with the ways in which a university should be governed.
Therefore, we must increase the number of elected members representing students and staff in order to make sure their voices are heard and they as the main stakeholders have a say in how their universities are run.
This upcoming referendum could prove monumental in the history of Hong Kong’s higher education sector and lay the foundation for change.
Therefore, I urge everyone who is eligible to vote to support the two motions and make our crystal clear and uncompromising stance on defending the autonomy of our universities and our academic freedom!
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 17.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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