Dostoevsky poses an eternal, unanswerable question at the start of Crime and Punishment: why do so many university students commit to radical politics when they could have made far better use of their time enriching their mind and soul by focusing on their studies?
When I was a foreign college student in the US, I got involved in leftist politics supporting causes like those of the Palestinians and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Luckily, those were the liberal Ronald Reagan years. Today, they would have sent me to Guantanamo Bay. My involvement was pretty much a waste of time, including skipping classes. If only I had used that time to read the Thucydides, Tacitus and Machiavelli that was on my course list, I would have learned much more about politics, government and history than shouting slogans and waving banners at protests. But youth is always wasted on the young.
I am disappointed that our university elders are so cowed by our young pan-democrat Red Guards that they are going out of their way to express support for them over class boycotts as part of Occupy Central. Some lecturers at the University of Hong Kong and Polytechnic University are planning to reschedule classes to fit the protesting students' timetables.
Wait a minute. If you have a beef with the central government or the Hong Kong government, fine, go protest outside the liaison office or in Admiralty. Go occupy Central or Mong Kok. But do it in your own time.
Law lecturer Benny Tai Yiu-ting once told me he was doing all his Occupy stuff outside work, in his own time. I take his word for it, and if you plan on following him, you should follow his example too.
Some universities are also offering free legal advice if student protesters get into trouble. Well, let their parents or the Legal Aid Department pay for it. If you break the law, you pay the price. Publicly funded universities have no right to waste taxpayer dollars that way. Taxpayers already provide three out of every four dollars spent on a local undergraduate.
Senior educators should have the guts to tell those young protesters: as young adults, you are free to do what you like. But accept the consequences if your education suffers.