• Tue
  • Sep 16, 2014
  • Updated: 1:04pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 October, 2013, 1:52am

Dear Professor Mathieson, here in Hong Kong we politicise everything

Henry Kissinger famously quipped that academic backbiting is fierce because the stakes are so low.

The public was given such a spectacle last week with the announcement that the University of Hong Kong has appointed Professor Peter Mathieson of Britain as its new vice-chancellor.

One prominent surgery professor called him "ignorant and incapable". A journalism professor described his "parachute" into Hong Kong from the University of Bristol, in a city of 430,000, as "a joke as big as the sky".

Well, the city of Cambridge has a population of 123,900 while the Oxford metropolitan area has more people: 244,000. If Mathieson had spoken with an Oxford accent, I am sure our city's oldest university would have been more welcoming. As it is, Bristol, a perfectly good university, just doesn't quite have the same cachet in brand-conscious Hong Kong. It's more Zara than Prada.

In any case, Mathieson, who prides himself on being a novice when it comes to local politics, has just had a lesson in it.

Dear professor, we politicise everything, including the appointment of university chiefs. Perhaps you can take comfort that it wasn't just you. This summer, your counterpart at Lingnan University also ran into trouble because he was once a part-time adviser to our chief executive, who has been declared persona non grata by large segments of our population. It was also because some students believed, rather implausibly, that his appointment should have been by one person, one vote. A word of advice: don't stand next to our chief executive, who is also your chancellor, to avoid being hit by stray objects.

Our hack of a professor claims your ignorance of the Chinese language and clean political slate mean you will be unable to protect our freedom. That would disqualify most foreign scientists, however distinguished. I say just do your job.

We have come to mistake rudeness for outspokenness, and outspokenness for courage. Openness and transparency now mean voicing personal, one-sided and ill-substantiated attacks in public. We all sound like protester extraordinaire-turned-lawmaker "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung.

Alas, we live in an age not so much of democratisation as "Long-hairitisation".

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This article is now closed to comments

whymak
momentum54:
I have already expressed here and elsewhere my misgivings about the unfair criticisms of Professor Mathieson. I also accept that academics participating in the hiring decision possess flawed prejudices like each and every one of us. However, I also object that some of you see fit to bring up ugly divisive issues such as race and chauvinism to characterize academics' loose-lip comments when none of these charges could be substantiated.
Hong Kong professors are generously compensated but not out of line with major universities of many developed countries. To my knowledge, the vice chancellor's salary and perks are not quite up to the level of many university presidents in the US. You should refrain from class warfare.
Having taught classes for a decade at "minimum wage" makes me somewhat sympathetic to professors' grievances about administrators strong in public relations but not having sterling credentials matching their own.
If you base your judgment on the resume alone, you could also argue that Professor Mathieson's academic talents are considerably inferior to his predecessor. By all indications, Professor Tsui has been "forced" out because of his deficient political skills in dealing with student rabble rousers. It stands to reason to question that our political charged climate might also become a handicap to someone unfamiliar with HKers' discontents.
I urge HKU faculty to lend him strong support to navigate around his potential weakness.
doraalmeida
Alex, your views are so pc. Universities are the right place for learning about politics, is there any other place for that?
anson
The fact of the matter is that academics have far too much time on their hands and are adept at constructing arguments and, consequently love nothing more than a good bout of political infighting. Having had the unfortunate experience of having to work with a number of universities over the years I found that professors are not happiest lecturing or researching. They are happiest when they are plunging the knife into a colleague. And as for those who constantly harp on about 'our most prestigious university' I take it you do mean CUHK?
mh0908
Not a chance! Most in Hong Kong prefer sensational reporting and the fine art of jumping to conclusion. Obviously the following doesn't count as it is not a negative:
"External examiner for Third Professional examinations in Medicine (Final MB), Chinese University of Hong Kong, April & Dec 2004 and Overseas Examiner in Medicine for 2004 Licensing Examination of the Medical Council of Hong Kong, Nov 2004."
Indeed it will be nice if everyone newspaper in Hong Kong prints the Professor's full CV. But that will take up valuable advertising space and people will not care to read the details, thus causing a decline in sales. We can't have that, can we?
momentum54
Here is the full bio - including the correct context for the "Uganda" comment.
****www.gs.hku.hk/322-913.pdf
I wish folks would do a little homework before reacting.
@ Byebye - it is a small matter of bloodline, skin colour, and nationality that would get in the way of your suggestion. As far as I am aware, no such restrictions exist for V-C at HKU or any other academic institution in Hong Kong. The fact that appointing an outsider makes such headlines and generates such co**** insults from those in academia reinforces the power that nationalism possesses to act as the natural enemy of multiculturalism. I hang my head in shame as a foreigner permanent resident of Hong Kong...those well-educated, influential, and highly-paid local members of academia (to whose salary I contribute) should do the same, and indulge themselves in a little introspection.
Byebye
May be after his tenure at HKU as V-C, Professor Mathieson may consider running for HKSAR's CEO?
whymak
caractacus:
You might be just a hair smarter than the guy (silent is the night) you slammed, but you are also the acknowledged racist par excellence!
Professor Mathieson was screened and selected by a committee of competent folks. Although a few committee members are none too happy with the outcome, they must abide graciously by majority stare decisis of this due process.
The reason Beijing government works relatively well while Western democracies wallow in gridlocks and ideological hate should be a lesson for all organizations.
In China, when policy differences have been hashed out in the Politboro, follow-up implementations tolerate no political grand standing of the opposition, let alone blatant saboteurs and nihilist naysayers. Why? Every policy change comes with risks. Turf battles of vested interests must take a back seat in order to give policy implementation a fighting chance.
I wish Professor Mathieson success. He may not have a fraction of the scientific talents of his predecessor or the top notch clinical skills of some in the Faculty of Medicine. What we need first is a university president, not a brand name academic with Nobel Prize credentials.
caractacus
One has to shake one's head in dismay at the conceit and inflated self importance of those who criticise the new Vice Chancellor out of total ignorance. Their attacks include: he isn't from HK, doesn't speak Chinese, doesn't know HK, is not capable etc etc. It's really all because he is not Chinese. Lots of HK Chinese professionals live and work abroad and they don't have to put up with this unprofessional, racist s h i t. If one of theirs was appointed to a similar position in a Western country and similar remarks were aimed at him/her, they would be the first to scream loudly about racism. HKer's are past masters at using hypocritical double standards.
honger
About time we spotlight these protectionist doctors - look at the impossibly difficult exam in recent years introduced to shut out foreign-trained doctors despite the acute shortage of specialists in the city.
This is what is happening in Hong Kong - it is becoming so insular that soon, they will try to introduce "exams" and "benchmarks" into every profession. They succeeded in the medical field, they are now testing it out in academia.
This arrogant xenophebia is spreading not only amongst the young novices, but has already metastasized to educated academics like Lo and Chan. This disease is more sinister than the greed of the property czars, or the corruption in the mainland - just examine the vehement hate statements of Lo and Chan against a total stranger, or the hatred vented against mainlanders. In no time, this former colonial outpost will be the ugliest hate city in the world.
momentum54
I wonder if Professors Chan and Lo will change their tunes now the object of their insults has become their new boss. Professor Lo in particular would do well to keep a low profile. His predecessor in surgery as well as the former Dean of the medical faculty both brought the university into disrepute through their financial improprieties, one of them spending time in jail for his transgressions. Although surgeons are generally an arrogant lot, perhaps Professor Lo should avoid putting a spotlight on himself and his department lest his new boss decides to take a close look at the way HK doctors have a habit of disgracing their profession in both words and actions.

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