Academic Autonomy Seriously Threatened in Hong Kong
HONG KONG—The recent scandal in which Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is suspected to have interfered with the appointment of Professor Johannes Chan as pro vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has caused widespread concern in the territory.
In a recent radio interview, legislator James Tien Pei-chun claimed that the interference did not only come from the territory’s SAR government, but also from the Hong Kong Liaison Office.
Tien’s comments echoed the allegations made in an article written by Kevin Lau in the Ming Pao newspaper in July. In the article, Lau stated that parties close to the government had applied pressure on HKU council members behind the scenes to block Chan’s appointment.
As a sympathizer and supporter of democracy, Chan has always been critical of the unfairness of Hong Kong’s current political system. Although he did not actively participate in the Occupy Central protests or the Umbrella Movement for democracy, he was accused of failing to properly report contributions made to law school professor and Occupy initiator Benny Tai Yiu-ting, used to fund the disobedience movement.
According to Tai, the accusation is totally groundless since there have never been any guidelines on how such contributions should be handled.
In the past few months, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpieces Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Po have published numerous articles denouncing Chan and arguing that he is unfit for the top level appointment.
This is a common tactic the CCP employs on targeted victims. It has therefore become clear that Chan has simply been chosen for attack due to his political affiliation and influence.
Many HKU students and alumni, as well as academics from other tertiary institutions, have expressed their disapproval of the university council for repeatedly delaying the decision to appoint Chan, who enjoys unanimous support from the selection committee. They criticize the HKU council for failing to follow the normal procedures in Chan’s appointment, bending to political pressure and compromising the university’s autonomy.
A massive campaign has been organized by HKU alumni to reform university management. One of their demands is that, in order to avoid future political interference, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive should no longer serve as the chancellor of the universities and should not be given the power to appoint so many members to the governing council.
At present, the Chief Executive can appoint the chairman and six members to the HKU council, which comprises a total of 23 members.
The outcome of this battle for academic autonomy will not only affect the future administration of the universities. It will be a deciding factor on whether Hong Kong can continue to uphold one of the last few core values left to the territory by the British administration.