HKU council controversy

University of Hong Kong vice-chancellor defends decision not to release governance report

Peter Mathieson thinks governing council needs time to decide what to do with contentious report and which suggestions to implement

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 March, 2017, 4:37pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 March, 2017, 8:56pm

The University of Hong Kong’s outgoing vice-chancellor has defended the decision not to release a report reviewing the chief executive’s role in university affairs.

While the long-awaited report has not been made public, sources say it recommends removing the chief executive’s role in appointing the chairman and some members of the institution’s governing council.

The city’s leader is chancellor of all eight publicly funded universities – posts inherited from British colonial rule.

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A new working group made up of members of the council is looking at the report’s suggestions, amid criticism from students, alumni and staff that the university is dragging its feet on the issue.

HKU vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson said at an annual soccer match between HKU and host Chinese University that the report had “parts that are very straightforward and other parts that are not so straightforward”, with some elements requiring further debate.

But Mathieson, clad in a football jersey and jeans, spoke of his hope that the council would “very quickly” implement some of the report’s recommendations, or at least act on the “less controversial parts of the report”.

“Many of the recommendations are things that we are already doing or that we already anticipated, so I don’t want there to be too much delay on the easier parts of the report,” he said.

In response to criticism about the decision not to publish the report for the time being, he believed the council needed time to decide what to do with it and which suggestions to implement.

“I personally think that’s appropriate,” said Mathieson, who abruptly announced his decision earlier this year to leave the university in January 2018.

The institution established a three-person independent review panel last April. Its report was slated for completion at the end of last year, but was not circulated among council members until late February.

Major recommendations would need to be approved by the HKU court, the chancellor and legislative councillors before they can be implemented.

Chinese University vice-chancellor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, who also attended the soccer match, said he had not seen the HKU report and could not comment on it.

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The Chinese University council has set up a task force to examine the role of the chief executive in its governance structure. Its members had “resolved to look at it openly”, said Sung, who is preparing to leave the university in mid-2018.

The panel – made up of council members, students, academics, and alumni – would invite overseas experts to examine and discuss the issue with them, Sung said.

The automatic appointment of the chief executive as chancellor has come under fire for opening the door to partisan appointments to governing councils.

In 2015, the HKU council was criticised for not appointing liberal law professor Johannes Chan Man-mun to a key managerial position, with some suggesting it was linked to his close ties to Benny Tai Yiu-ting, co-founder of the pro-democracy Occupy Central movement.

Education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen pointed to the appointment of Norman Leung Nai-pang, seen as an ally of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, as chairman of the Chinese University council.

Ip, an HKU graduate, urged the university’s council to allow public consultation on the report, saying a similar governance and management report in 2003 underwent a two-month period of consultation around a week after it was submitted to the council.