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HKU council controversy

A time for reason over confrontation at HKU

Both the students and governing council chairman Arthur Li should temper their approach ahead of a dialogue on the way forward for the university

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 January, 2016, 11:25pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 January, 2016, 11:28pm

After the chaotic disorder on the University of Hong Kong’s campus last Tuesday night it did not seem that relations between some students and the university’s governing authorities could sink any lower. The only way was forward was up. Friends of the university had hoped a dialogue due to begin in about a week would be a turning point towards reconciliation. It is disappointing enough that this sentiment was lost within two days. But it was regrettable that it was the combative style of the new chairman of the university’s governing council, Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, that aggravated the confrontation.

Li called a press conference about the events on Tuesday, when hundreds of students besieged a meeting he was holding, trapping him and other council members for hours as they demanded a review of the governing body’s structure.

He said students behaved as if they were on drugs and accused pan-democrat politicians of manipulating them. Li’s anger at Tuesday’s events was understandable. This newspaper has condemned the students’ behaviour as unacceptable and irrational. And Li is known for his aggressive approach both as a former education minister and senior academic administrator.

But such inflammatory remarks do nothing to heal the divide when we need reconciliation.

Despite a decision by the governing council to have an independent committee review governance, feelings were running high amid perceived interference in the university’s independence and a class boycott by some 200 students. But the students were wrong to confront the council after it had taken the first step towards addressing their concerns.

Ahead of the coming dialogue both sides should now strive to remain calm so that reason can prevail over confrontation. Nothing less can safeguard the university’s reputation as one of Asia’s finest. With many challenges in the years ahead, Li may have to temper his combative approach at times.