Polytechnic University is accused of shielding don

Professor and critic of Sha Tin-Central rail link says panel ignored proof that his supervisor, an MTR consultant, may have a conflict of interest

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 November, 2012, 4:03am

A professor has accused a Polytechnic University investigative panel of trying to protect his supervisor who, he says, tried to stop him holding a seminar critical of the new Sha Tin-Central rail line.

Dr Tse Chi-tong, associate professor of the PolyU electrical engineering department, said he had received a caution from the vice-chancellor for using confidential data during his presentation in June.

Tse had earlier filed a complaint against his department head Professor Ho Siu-lau, who is also a consultant for the MTR Corporation. Tse said Ho put obstacles in his way and refused to endorse the seminar, which disclosed problems of the proposed railway.

The row raises concerns of infringement of academic freedom. Ho stepped down as head of the department on Thursday, but kept his chair-professorship. The university did not explain why he resigned.

Tse yesterday said the PolyU panel looking into his complaint omitted a lot of key evidence he had submitted, including Ho's frequent provision of consultancy services to the MTR Corp and his resulting income.

Tse alleged a conflict of interest could be involved. "I was really angry. The money he received should be in the tens of millions of dollars," he said.

He said Professor Philip Chan, provost of the university, told him on Thursday that the panel focused only on whether Ho had violated any code of practice by calling off the seminar but not his motivation, which it said fell outside its scope.

Tse said he wanted to hold the seminar to announce his research findings - in response to a public consultation exercise - that the Sha Tin-Central link would waste money through its electricity supply arrangement.

Ho refused to endorse the seminar and cancelled the venue booking, Tse said.

Tse booked another venue with the help of the PolyU Staff Association. During the event, Ho interrupted Tse by shouting that his presentation was "a load of rubbish", Tse said.

The panel, at the end of its inquiry, cautioned Tse for using confidential data for his research without the MTR's approval.

Ho could not be reached for comment.

Joseph Lee Heung-wing, chairman of the staff association, expressed disappointment about the panel's response.

"It is not an infringement of academic freedom; it is a betrayal of academic freedom," Lee said. "It is really horrible that even a university is not going to find out the truth."

A university spokesman said it respected academic freedom and that it was normal to see two professors holding different academic views on a development project. He declined to disclose the results of the panel inquiry, citing "privacy reasons".