Why is HKU community remaining silent?

February 09, 2015 17:01
HKU students, teachers and alumni should not be afraid to speak up, says Albert Cheng. Photo: HKEJ

After the Occupy movement ended in December, Vice President Li Yuanchao praised the Hong Kong government and the  “patriotic and pro-Hong Kong forces” for their successful handling of the protests and said the “high drama” was yet to come.

It has become clear that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s regime, which has always embraced the art of political struggle, is going after pro-Occupy figures and institutions for revenge on a massive scale, and the University of Hong Kong faculty of law has become the latest victim of a heavy-handed smear campaign by pro-Beijing newspapers.

Shortly after Benny Tai Yiu-ting, one of the three initiators of the Occupy movement and an associate professor of law at HKU, came under fire from the leftist press and was forced to take a leave of absence, the two leading pro-Beijing newspapers in the city, Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao, seized upon the research assessment exercise report recently released by the University Grants Committee (UGC).

The two papers said the UGC report showed that the number of theses published by the HKU law school that attained either a four-star or a three-star rating was less than that at its counterpart at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Wen Wei Po blamed Johannes Chan Man-mun, the former dean of the HKU law faculty and an outspoken advocate of democracy, for the decline in the academic standards because he allowed his staff to put aside their work and spend most of their time on the Occupy movement.

As always, the attacks by the two papers were politically inspired, and the pattern was familiar: a daily barrage, tirelessly repeating the same details.

The objective is also crystal clear: to bring Chan down and undermine the reputation of the HKU law school.

The fact that Wen Wei Po had been able to get hold of all the data and content of the UGC report before it was even published suggests the newspaper may have been tipped off by one of Leung's pawns within the UGC.

Some suspect Cheung Chi-kong, Leung’s No. 1 follower, who is a member of the UGC and the Executive Council.

In fact, UGC chairman Cheng Wai-sun admitted Cheung read the report before it was published, which means Cheung learned about the assessment results of the HKU law school prior to the report's official release. It is logical that Cheung could be the person responsible for the leak.

To make matters worse, the pro-Beijing press went on to attack Chan and question whether he was qualified to be the dean of the law faculty because he has no PhD degree.

The leftist attacks against Chan have stirred up a storm among local academics.

Eventually, Professor Albert Chen Hung-yee, a member of the pro-establishment camp and a highly respected former HKU dean of law, stepped forward to defend his colleague out of righteous indignation and said he himself didn’t have a PhD either.

Chen asserted that Chan had done a great job managing the HKU law school and that the academic standards of the school remained as high as ever.

The massive onslaughts against Tai and Chan are not isolated cases.

After Leung unprecedentedly lambasted the Undergrad student journal in his recent policy address, it is said he summoned HKU vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson and lectured him on his duties.

Leung even invited members of the HKU council to lunch, in his capacity as chancellor, something unprecedented in the history of the university.

It is quite obvious Leung is trying to force HKU's administration into toeing the government line.

In the face of Leung’s continued interference in the academic freedom and the freedom of speech of the University of Hong Kong, its teachers, students and even alumni have remained largely silent so far.

Mathieson is even more disappointing. As head of the university, he is supposed to step up and defend the reputation and academic freedom of his university.

However, it seems he didn’t dare to stand up to Leung, let alone criticize the chief executive's onslaught on Undergrad in his policy speech.

HKU dates back more than a hundred years and has established a long-standing tradition of embracing liberal values and freedom.

It is the cradle of many influential and distinguished figures in Hong Kong and even the founding fathers of modern China, such as Dr. Sun Yat-sen and some of his revolutionary comrades.

In the past, HKU alumni always treasured the reputation of their university and would spare no effort in defending its academic freedom and impartiality.

The way Leung has been taking the university on recently is both relentless and despicable, and he seems to be prepared to go to any lengths to subdue HKU.

But why haven't any of its alumni, some of whom are influential figures in society, stepped up to defend their alma mater?

Isn’t it sad and outrageous that none of these people dare speak up for justice?

It is even more alarming that other departments in HKU have remained largely indifferent to the ordeal the law school has been undergoing.

In fact, what the HKU law faculty has undergone recently is relevant to everyone in Hong Kong.

Universities are the symbol of freedom and conscience in all societies, and once they collapse or succumb to dictatorship, the rest of our core values will be at stake.

It’s hard to tell who will be the next victim if we don’t stand our ground.

The downfall of Hong Kong is already an undeniable fact, and our silence and indifference will only speed up the process.

HKU students, teachers and alumni should be ashamed of being afraid to speak up.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 6.

Translation by Alan Lee

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HKU law professors Johannes Chan (left) and Benny Tai have come under attack from pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong. Photos: Wikipedia, Reuters

Former radio talk show host; Columnist at the Hong Kong Economic Journal