University appointments to be based on merit, says CE

Updated: 2015-10-28 07:35

By Timothy Chui in Hong Kong(HK Edition)

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Leung Chun-ying expresses concern about political interference in education

The city's oldest institution of higher learning is in dire need of strong leadership as Hong Kong's universities face an unprecedented crisis of confidence.

The replacement for outgoing University of Hong Kong Council Chairman Edward Leong Che-hung would be announced in due course, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said on Tuesday. He told reporters the appointment of university leaders and public servants would remain merit-based despite concerns about the increasing politicization of university affairs.

Leung urged the public to avoid unnecessary speculation into the "political aspects" of appointments.

Political pundit James Sung Lap-kung said it was time the HKU dealt with attempts to politicize every university decision before these problems spread to Lingnan University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). These universities are also dealing with simmering student rebellions.

"HKU has to find a way to stand firm, otherwise we expect a domino effect at other schools," Sung said.

Last month the HKU Council voted against the appointment of Johannes Chan Man-mun to senior management. Opposition leaders claim this was politically motivated. This is despite the professor's controversial handling of an anonymous HK$1.45 million donation which helped fund last year's illegal "Occupy Central" protests.

Administration of the school has been repeatedly challenged by council member and student union president Billy Fung Jing-en. Fung faces the possibility of disciplinary measures following repeated breaches of the council's code of conduct. This includes leading a council room invasion by student activists and divulging confidential discussions.

Chan's failure to secure enough votes for the post has also raised allegations of interference in academic freedom. This is despite political machinations from both within and outside the school to have him confirmed in the position.

Sung said the opposition's campaign to force Chan's appointment had been hypercritical because they were also politically motivated - as Chan was one of their own.

Nearly every university decision and action has been criticized to the point that even a meeting between the CE and HKU Vice-Chancellor Peter Mathieson was unfairly called a conspiracy. This is despite the fact the CE regularly meets with school leaders in his capacity as chancellor of the city's universities.

Political pressure by the opposition has increased. Critics are still threatening political actions, protests and referendums unless their demands are met.

But Sung said the public were getting sick of the politicization of nearly every HKU activity.

The latest episode in the school's long list of crises now centers on Leong's successor. This is widely believed to be former education secretary Arthur Li Kwok-cheung. Leong's retirement is set for Nov 6.

Sung said Li's appointment could restore order as HKU was facing an open revolt by student activists.

Li's reputation as a forceful administrator and his extensive experience made him a good replacement for Leong, Sung said.

He noted that Li had demanded outsiders protect school interests in his capacity as CUHK vice-chancellor.

"(Li) is well-experienced in school about operations and how decision-making touches on different stakeholders and how to strike a balance. He is quite sophisticated in the decision-making process and the right person to head (HKU) which is facing unprecedented challenges from within and outside," Sung said.

(HK Edition 10/28/2015 page8)