In a surprise announcement, University of Hong Kong (HKU) vice chancellor Peter Mathieson said he will be leaving his post in January next year, one year before his five-year term ends.
Mathieson sent a message to HKU staff, students and alumni on Thursday about his plan, citing personal reasons, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Mathieson, 57, took up the job in April 2014 after serving as dean of the University of Bristol medical and dentistry faculty.
He said he decided to leave HKU after extensive consultations with his family, adding he was himself surprised by his premature departure.
“The departure of one person must not be allowed to derail the progress being made at this great and venerable university,” Mathieson wrote.
HKU should continue with the many reforms and modernization to achieve the strategic vision that he and his team had set out for the next 10 years, he said, adding that he is optimistic about HKU’s future.
“Perhaps most of all, repeatedly during the past three years we have articulated, promoted and defended the university’s core principles during a period of unprecedented political complexity in Hong Kong, ensuring that our students and staff can continue to flourish in an environment that respects their freedom of speech: long may this continue.”
Matheison will take up a similar position at the University of Edinburgh which has announced his appointment.
As the 15th president and vice chancellor of HKU, Mathieson faced challenges during his tenure, including the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy Central movement in which many HKU students participated and the controversial appointment of Arthur Li in 2015 to become chairman of the HKU governing council.
Li said he respected Mathieson’s decision, adding that there was “absolutely no political reason” behind it.
The Education Bureau said it was a personal decision by Mathieson, adding HKU can select a successor as quickly as possible in the school’s long-term interests and the well-being of students.
HKU student union president Althea Suen called Mathieson’s decision “ridiculous” and “irresponsible” while her predecessor, Billy Fung, said Mathieson does not deserve the title of “defender of HKU core values”.
Fung said Mathieson has not done anything beneficial to the school.
Principal lecturer Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a member of the council, expressed concern it will be controlled by pro-establishment members who might lead the search for a new president.
Mathieson receives an annual salary of HK$4 million (US$515,519) at HKU. Timothy O’Shea, the sitting University of Edinburgh president, was paid HK$2.63 million in 2016.
[Chinese version 中文版]
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