Taskforce examines limits on academic freedom

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 September, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 September, 2001, 12:00am
 

A University of Hong Kong taskforce, set up in the wake of the Robert Chung polling affair, has started to collect information on infringement of academic freedom.


Earlier this month, the taskforce sent e-mails to all university staff asking if they had suffered restrictions in research. Its members include Professor Cheng Kai-ming, the university's pro-vice-chancellor, and Biby Ngai Wing-yin, student union president.


The taskforce was set up after university pollster Robert Chung Ting-yiu claimed in July last year that the Government was exerting pressure on his research, a case that led to the resignation of vice-chancellor Cheng Yiu-chung and pro-vice-chancellor Wong Siu-lun.


Dr Chung, head of the university's Public Opinion Programme, claimed Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa had pressurised him to drop polls on Mr Tung's popularity and the Government's credibility. Professor Cheng was later named as Mr Tung's messenger. Mr Tung and the professor denied the allegations. It was also said that Mr Tung's aide, Andrew Lo Cheung-on, had discussed the polls with Professor Cheng.


The taskforce was set up last October following the affair to formulate plans to protect academic freedom.


Professor Brian Darvell, chairman of the taskforce, said until now he had received 'nothing substantive' from the university's staff. 'But I know some of our staff members had felt quite strongly that their academic freedom had been infringed in the past,' he said.


Professor Darvell said he hoped the taskforce would come up with recommendations on how to protect academic freedom to be presented to the university senate by next Easter.


But Ms Ngai said months had been spent trying to agree on a definition of academic freedom. 'So far, we had only two meetings and a preliminary agreement on what constitutes academic freedom,' she said.


James Tang Tuck-hong, head of the politics and public administration department, said it was hard to say what concrete results the taskforce could come up with on the issue.


Professor Lau Siu-kai, associate director of the Institute for Asia-Pacific Studies at Chinese University, said the taskforce was 'unimportant'.


'After the Robert Chung affair, no one, not even the Government, dares pressure academics again,' he added.


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