In HKU's audio leak case, academic freedom trumps need for confidentiality

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 November, 2015, 2:22pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 September, 2016, 3:16pm

I read with amazement the article by Professor Lawrence J. Lau ("HKU recording a violation of human morals", November 2). It is full of irrationalities.

He states that in the United States, "recording conversations in secret is a criminal act in some states". It follows that in many other states, it is not a criminal act. It is wrong to elevate local laws in some place to universal moral standards.

The professor does not know there are different levels of moral principles. During the second world war, many Catholic priests provided refuge to Jews in the churches. When they were questioned by authorities, they lied as to the whereabouts of these Jews.

Integrity is a moral principle, but saving innocent human lives is a higher one and takes priority.

Suppose there were members of the University of Hong Kong council who were plotting to blow up the university's main building and replace it with a tall modern building in order to override the objection to demolition by an environmental group. If a member of the council secretly records the conversation and releases it to prevent a crime, it certainly will not be "an utterly despicable, irresponsible, selfish and cowardly act".

The present issue is that there are council members who voted to oppose the appointment of a professor to a post. The reasons given by some of these members are ridiculous. They must be presumed to have a political mandate to oppose the appointment because of the candidate's political views.

This is an act that infringes academic freedom because from now on, no academic at the University of Hong Kong would dare to teach or say anything that may offend the political establishment if he wants to have a promotion. Preserving academic freedom is a higher moral principle than keeping council business confidential.

The professor puts much emphasis on mutual trust and states that without mutual trust, "our society cannot function properly".

In many respects, our society does not function with mutual trust. In politics, opposing parties seldom trust each other, and businessmen need contracts rather than mutual trust to conduct business, and the business of HKU council has become political.

When two moral principles come into conflict, the one on the higher level should be adopted and the one on the lower level has to be sacrificed. It has nothing to do with the rule of law.

S.W. Lau, Central