Bickering over HKU job raises fears about academic freedom

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 July, 2015, 4:43pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 July, 2015, 4:43pm

I refer to the reports ("Call to explain delay over ex-HKU dean's role", June 30), ("HKU defers appointing pro-democracy don", July 1) and ("HKU takes flak over delayed promotion", July 2).

The bickering by the University of Hong Kong (government appointed) governing council over the appointment of Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun as pro-vice-chancellor, raises the spectre that Hong Kong is losing its academic freedom and independence from government control.

Professor Chan was unanimously chosen by the selection committee which was constituted by the council. To reject its recommendation is unprecedented. It gives the impression the council is supporting the government's displeasure with Professor Chan because he did not restrain associate professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting from organising the Occupy Central campaign.

The attack on Professor Chan over how some donations were accepted and used by Benny Tai in his campaign sounds like a lame excuse. The real reason smells of being politically motivated.

During his 10-year tenure as the dean of the law faculty, Professor Chan had shown himself to be an extremely popular and capable teacher as well as administrator. He has taken law teaching at HKU to the highest standards. The faculty is now internationally respected as among the best in the world.

Professor Chan is revered as a top jurist especially in the field of human rights. He is universally liked and admired by his colleagues and students and by the legal community.

There can be no better candidate for this important administrative post for which he has been selected after due process.

The council should have the courage and calibre to stand up to political interference and to uphold the invaluable tradition of academic independence which was established by illustrious people ever since HKU was founded moe than 100 years ago.

The council should not undermine the high international standing that HKU has achieved in the academic world. It should demonstrate its independence by confirming the appointment of Professor Chan without further delay.

Finally, an official inquiry should be launched immediately to find out if anyone either officially or unofficially representing the government had made contact with anyone on the council regarding Professor Chan's appointment. If so, it would be a very serious matter indeed and bodes ill for academic freedom in Hong Kong.

Winston Chu Ka-sun, visiting professor, law faculty, University College London