My Take

Support for Occupy Central should not trouble head of University of Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 April, 2014, 5:08am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 April, 2014, 5:08am

Since when does supporting Occupy Central become a criterion for being a good head of a Hong Kong university?

Professor Peter Mathieson, the new vice chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, has been asked time and again by students and reporters about his stances on various political hot potatoes such as the civil disobedience movement.

"I support students' right to peaceful protest," Mathieson said yesterday, his first day on the job. "I support free speech and I'll stand up for those core values. The university will help any student who happens to participate in or get into any trouble in Occupy Central, but always within the boundaries and respect of the law."

The question I want to ask is: if some HKU students oppose Occupy Central, would the professor support them too? My suspicion is that he would say yes as well because it's a free city and a free campus. In that case, his "support" is really beside the point. Don't get me wrong, I am not criticising the good don, but rather the self-righteous people who demand he gives what they consider the right or politically correct answer. Many reasonable people disagree over whether Occupy Central is justified or not. Why should HKU take a stance on this or other controversial issues?

In the name of free speech and democracy, some student activists have been forcing their university elders to share their views and support their actions. They have already forced into early retirement Mathieson's predecessor, distinguished scientist and gentleman Tsui Lap-chee, over the latter's supposed mishandling of a campus visit by Premier Li Keqiang in 2011.

Most university students are young adults. They are free to join any civil disobedience movement they choose - or not. They can entertain any political or religious beliefs they want. That's their choice and theirs alone. But university officials have no obligation to support them one way or another any more than they should support students to take a vacation in Bali rather than Taipei.

Perhaps Mathieson meant nothing more than that any HKU student who gets into trouble during a vacation or a protest could expect help from the university.