Let cooler heads prevail over campus politics at University of Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 July, 2015, 1:22am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 July, 2015, 1:22am

That filling a key managerial post at the University of Hong Kong has triggered a bitter row is unsurprising given the current political atmosphere. But some students clearly went too far when they stormed a meeting reviewing the decision to delay the appointment. The controversy should be resolved through dialogue. At the centre of the dispute is the would-be appointment of Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun as a pro-vice-chancellor. The former dean of the law faculty emerged as the top candidate for the job last year. But his nomination was questioned by pro-Beijing newspapers, who see Chan as an ally of legal scholar and Occupy movement co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting. The process was delayed further by the university's probe into the Occupy funding row that involved Tai. The university's governing council later voted 12-6 to defer the appointment until a supervisory provost was hired.

Speculation has been rife over why the appointment has been put on hold. Critics accused Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying - who is also the chancellor of all publicly funded universities in the city - of blocking Chan's appointment through the members he handpicked to the council, though this was denied by his office. But those in favour of the delay said given the working relationship of the two posts, it was not unreasonable to wait until the provost position was filled. Some see the tussle as an extension of the political friction between the pro-Beijing and pan-democratic camps.

The council's decision to wait until the provost is named does not sound convincing, considering university president Peter Mathieson has reportedly supported the speedy appointment of a pro-vice-chancellor. It has to be considered whether the process would have been more straightforward had the candidate been someone other than Chan. The concerns expressed by the students and alumni are legitimate. But confrontation is not the way to advance their cause. Although the decision to wait was upheld at Tuesday's meeting, council chairman Dr Leong Che-hung said he was about to ask members to deal with the appointment in September if the provost position was not filled within the next month. But the students disrupted the meeting as soon as they heard that the delay had been upheld. At stake is the university's reputation. The petition by 2,500 alumni speaks volumes of the concerns in society. The row will not go away unless the council is seen as handling the appointment in a fair and expeditious manner. Students should also voice their views rationally.