University revolt saves legislator from axe

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 April, 2005, 12:00am

Fernando Cheung stays on council after 800-strong protest at Polytechnic

An outspoken legislator and academic was last night saved from being removed from the Polytechnic University council after nearly 800 teachers and students protested against the move.

At the centre of the dispute are changes to university policy covering the employment status of staff who sit on university boards and bodies.

The changes were believed to be aimed at ousting legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung - who has been active in fighting for the rights of students and staff from the university council, which oversees management and administration.

The council approved the changes, which would force staff who hold public office and who cannot provide full-time service, to change their status to part-time. The new policy means they could not retain the right to be elected or appointed to the university's council, senate and faculty board.

But the situation took a U-turn after the council told Mr Cheung at the end of a five-hour meeting that the new policy could not be applied retrospectively. This means that he could continue to serve on the council until his term ends at the end of this year.

The present practice allows staff doing public service work to keep their full-time status while having their salaries and benefits adjusted according to their workload.

Mr Cheung, a professor at the university's Department of Applied Social Sciences, is one of two elected council members representing staff. Twenty members of the council are lay members appointed by the chief executive.

Mr Cheung had led the fight against proposed cuts in staff benefits last year. He also raised concerns over the university's allocation of resources in favour of overseas students and senior university staff's involvement in commercial activities.

Mr Cheung described the step as 'very unfortunate and backward' yesterday. 'What they are trying to do is change the policy in order to get rid of me from the council. It is a rather obvious act of singling me out as a person who tries to challenge their authority,' he said.

The university backed down at the last minute because of the pressure from students and teachers, he said.

A group of students collected 770 signatures in support of Mr Cheung yesterday.

They also presented a petition to the council.

Mr Cheung said he was still concerned about the implications of the policy on other staff members and vowed to follow up the issue with the university. He also accused the university of double standards, arguing that its president, Poon Chung-kwong, was also allowed to sit on the council when he served as a legislator.

Tse Pak-chai, an organiser of the signature campaign, said: 'Cheung belongs to the rare few in the university who have the courage to fight and speak for the rights of teachers and students. The change in policy is an obvious move to kick him out of the council.'

The council said the decision to seek clarification between full-time and part-time staff status in the new policy worked in the interest of the university and its staff.