Hong Kong university picks new leader over the objections of students and staff
Governing council unanimously opts for US-based vice-chancellor despite concerns over his ability to defend the institution’s autonomy
Chinese University has chosen an internationally renowned scientist as its new vice-chancellor despite opposition from students, staff and alumni who fear he will not be able to protect its institutional autonomy.
Dr Norman Leung Nai-pang, chairman of the university’s governing council, announced on Tuesday night that it had unanimously approved the appointment of Professor Rocky Tuan Sung-chi, a Hong Kong native, in a meeting.
Tuan will begin his term on January 1 next year for a period of six years. Current vice-chancellor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu will step down at the end of the year and resume his role as professor of medicine and therapeutics.
Speaking to reporters following his appointment, Tuan quickly hit back at critics’ claims that he was not familiar with the city by proudly declaring that he was “made in Hong Kong” despite leaving for the US as a teenager to pursue university education.
“Even though I’ve been away [in the US] for many decades, I’ve always had a hope in my heart that one day I [will] have the opportunity to come back to my hometown to serve society and institutions of higher education. And now this dream of mine has come true,” he said.
Leung said the council gathered that the majority of university staff and students were positive about Tuan, who is currently a professor in the department of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, taking the post as university chief. The chairman also highlighted Tuan’s contributions to the field of regenerative medicine.
When asked about his views on the automatic appointment of the chief executive as chancellor of public universities in Hong Kong, a contentious topic among higher institutions in the city, Tuan did not directly answer the question, instead saying that it was important to hear different opinions in a democratic manner.
But he stressed: “The eight public universities are government subsidised, and the government has the responsibility to understand what is going on in schools.”
After hearing that from Tuan on a broadcast, Year Four student Horace Hung Ho-ming said he was worried about whether Tuan could protect the institution from political interference.
When asked about whether he would help students who had been arrested for participating in civil disobedience movements, Tuan said the school could act as a bridge to get alumni to help but added that the university had to abide by the law.
Professor Chan King-ming, president of the Chinese University Teachers Association, said he was disappointed that Tuan could not promise to help students. Hung pointed out that Sung, his predecessor, visited students during the Occupy civil disobedience movements three years ago.
But Tuan stressed that he viewed academic freedom and freedom of speech as important.
Before the meeting, the university’s student union passed a letter to a council member requesting another consultation in September before a decision was made as many students had been overseas or on work attachments when the school held consultations about Tuan’s appointment earlier. The union also sought more student involvement in the selection process.
Union president Au Tsz-ho was eventually invited to attend the council meeting as an observer.
Au said he was disappointed that the consultation could not be postponed. Leung explained that Tuan’s recommendation was made public last month resulting in it not being possible to postpone the process as Tuan and the University of Pittsburgh had to make plans for future soon.