Accommodating different viewpoints key to good campus life

October 15, 2019 19:17
A file picture shows PolyU's main campus. A university is home to people of different views and schools of thought, and students should expect to meet teachers with different political opinions, a lawmaker points out. Photo: HKEJ

Four months into the anti-extradition bill saga, the Hong Kong protest movement has shown little signs that it is running out of steam. In the meantime, the social conflicts and divisions triggered by the crisis have spilled over into the school campuses.

According to media reports, a lecturer from the College of Professional and Continuing Education (CPCE) of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) was confronted by a number of students and left stranded during a lecture for several hours because of remarks he made last week that protesters should be punished by severe laws.

After that, there was chatter that the lecturer was suspended from his job as a punishment by the school. Meanwhile, there were also rumors that the university denied the police entry to the campus to handle the situation on the day when the lecturer ran into trouble with his students.

The rumors have provoked a backlash among “blue ribbon” netizens, who accused the PolyU of acting in an irresponsible manner.

Amid the controversies, the PolyU later clarified that the lecturer in question hasn’t been suspended from his position. His work schedule was only temporarily adjusted in order to avoid confrontation and stalemate between him and his students, it said, adding that the person will be reinstated to his teaching post as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, on the question of whether the police is allowed to enter the school campus to handle a conflict, PolyU said the university always hopes to handle disputes on its campus through internal mediation first.

If the internal mediation efforts succeed, the university management will not consider calling in the law enforcement to help, it said.

I believe the PolyU is making an informed and wise move on this matter, as allowing the police, in the current atmosphere, to handle incidents right away could result in even more serious clashes.

Unless it is truly necessary, inviting police intervention on university campuses is definitely not a good option.

However, that doesn’t mean I agree with the way the students ganged up on their lecturer on that day. Instead, I believe it is totally a wrong thing to do for students to verbally abuse their teachers under any circumstances.

The university is supposed to be an inclusive and pluralistic place where everybody, be they students or teaching staff, is entitled to academic freedom and freedom of expression.

As such, the university campus must not tolerate any form of attack against a teacher just because of his or her political opinions.

A university is home to people of different views and schools of thought. And it is expected that students will come across teachers with different political opinions.

As a student, if one finds the notions or theories embraced and spread by a particular teacher indefensible and groundless, then what he or she should do is to refute the ideas through rational debates or by writing essays during or after class.

In other words, no matter how much you disagree with a person due to ideological differences, you should never resort to aggressive means such as ganging up on the individual or verbally abusing that person.

The last thing we want to see is for “blue ribbon" students to surround and gang up against “yellow ribbon” teachers over their different ideologies, and vice versa. Also, we don't want "yellow ribbon" teachers to deliberately create difficulties for “blue ribbon" students, and vice versa.

I hope students can learn the lesson of the PolyU's CPCE incident and reflect on their conduct. They should treasure the intellectual atmosphere on the university campus and learn to respect and care for one another.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 14

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative Council member from the education sector