OpenU approves pro-Beijing scholar as president, despite student sit-in

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 June, 2013, 12:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

Despite a sit-in protest by Open University students, pro-Beijing scholar Wong Yuk-shan was appointed to be the fifth president on Thursday morning.

The university council chairman made the announcement during a meeting where six students staged a demonstration to protest against what they called an opaque selection process in which they had little say.

“We wanted the council to delay the announcement and hold more consultation meetings,” said Prudence Chan Pui-wing, one of the student protesters. “We have been consulted only once last week.”

Chan said the council did not tell students the name of the final candidate in a June 6 e-mail informing them about a consultation meeting on June 13. It revealed Wong’s identity only at the meeting.

“We didn’t have time to do research before the consultation period and Professor Wong didn’t appear to know our university,” she said.

Angela Lau, a student who did not participate in the protest, said she did not know about the consultation and had no idea who the new president was.

The council said Wong, vice-president of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and a deputy on the National People’s Congress, was selected from more than 50 candidates in a process that started in March last year.

“Professor Wong had served various institutions in teaching, researching and university administration,” said council chairman Eddy Fong Ching. “He also recognises the importance of our mission. I’m confident he will strengthen the university.”

Chan Pui-hei, president of the student union and the only student council member, said he did not have the right to vote at the appointment. He was allowed to voice his concerns at the meeting and then was required to leave before the voting.

“I told them about students’ requests,” said Chan, “but they turned us down.”

Fong said it was part of university policy that students cannot participate during the presidential selection process or vote in the appointment process. He agreed that the council should review the regulation and promised to "seriously consider" changing the law. He asked students to be patient.

Wong, 64, a life science professor, is chairman of the Consumer Council, a member of the Basic Law Promotion Steering Committee, vice-chairman of the Federation of Fujian Associations and chairman of the Society of Hong Kong Scholars.

He supported the now-shelved national education programme that sparked widespread protests and was condemned by critics as “brainwashing”.

Chan Pui-hei said he was worried that Wong’s pro-Beijing background would lead to pressures on students and staff, and that he may revive national education plans. He said students should be allowed to be more involved in the presidential selection process in the future.