HKU council controversy

University of Hong Kong slammed for not getting women involved in search for new vice-chancellor

Women’s Studies Research Centre and staff concern group criticise institution for failing to follow gender guidelines by creating an all-male search committee

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 April, 2017, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 April, 2017, 12:05pm

Hong Kong’s oldest university has failed to comply with gender equality guidelines in its search for its next vice-chancellor, according to some academics.

The University of Hong Kong set up a search committee in April to seek a new head to replace outgoing vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson. The four members of the committee are all men.

However, the institution’s latest policy guidelines on recruitment issued in October last year state: “To promote gender equality, at least 30 per cent of the voting members or at least two voting members of the search/selection committee should be female.”

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The university’s Women’s Studies Research Centre and staff concern group HKU Vigilance said they were “surprised and disappointed” that the committee’s membership did not comply with the latest policy.

“It would appear that in the case of this committee, to select one of the most senior officers of the university, no attempt has been made to follow the university’s policy on gender balance,” the joint statement said.

There was one woman on the three-member search committee tasked to look for a vice-chancellor in 2013 before the new policy came in effect.

The adoption of the policy was one of several measures aimed at promoting gender equality on campus after the university was the first in the world to join a United Nations initiative on gender balance in 2015.

The UN initiative called HeForShe aims at spreading awareness of the need for women’s empowerment and “taking action to create a gender equal world”.

Mathieson is one of 10 university heads worldwide who are members of the campaign’s impact group to address gender inequality on campus.

“University champions will have high reputations for strong ethical practices and equitable gender policies,” the HeForShe website’s university framework guide says.

The two groups called on the university to “redress the imbalance” by co-opting two female members to the search committee.

It also urged the HKU Council to meet gender balance commitments and comply with the policy in forming the selection committee, which will choose candidates put forward by the search panel.

The Equal Opportunities Commission, the city’s anti-discrimination watchdog, did not comment on the incident, but encouraged all tertiary institutions to be “gender sensitive when formulating policies ... to achieve genuine fairness and equal opportunities for all”.

The search committee comprises Professor Brian Stevenson, chair of economics Professor Richard Wong Yue-chim, Professor Alfonso Ngan Hing-wan from the faculty of engineering, and Professor Lau Chak-sing, associate dean of the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine.

Mathieson announced his resignation in February, two years before his contract expires.

HKU did not respond to Post inquiries.