Don’t blame all students for ‘isolated incidents’ involving malicious messages, EdU leaders say
Education University president and council chairman respond to backlash from potential employers
Both the president and the council chairman of Hong Kong’s Education University took to the airwaves on Monday to fend off criticism over “isolated incidents” involving malicious messages posted on its campus notice boards.
While the culprits behind the messages on the university’s “democracy wall” – one taunting a top education official over her son’s recent suicide and another making light of the death of Chinese dissident and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo – remained unknown, it was revealed on Monday that two people had put up the notice about Liu in the middle of the night, wearing caps and hoodies, with their faces covered.
“Politics is politics, education is education,” EdU council chair Frederick Ma Si-hang said on a radio show.
“First, we cannot jump to the conclusion that these are EdU students. I know EdU students are very passionate about education and are of very high quality,” he said. “But let’s say even if those responsible were from EdU, I feel these were isolated incidents that should not implicate other students. I don’t want the education sector to perceive that there are problems with all students at this university.”
Ma was responding to recent reports of a backlash from prospective employers in the education sector toward students from the university – which specialises in training teachers – with schools rejecting internship applicants and threatening not to hire its graduates.
Speaking on the same radio show, university president Professor Stephen Cheung Yan-leung said he was not aware of institutions formally making such announcements but could gauge the situation from the “hundreds of emails and WhatsApp messages” from teachers, parents and principals he had been receiving since last week.
“We shouldn’t tar [all students] with same brush,” he said. “Whether this will affect the employment opportunities of EdU students, I will, after the whole incident is behind us, communicate with the education sector.”
He assured students in an email later that the university would continue to liaise with the education sector to ensure internship opportunities for them.
Cheung said an investigation was still under way, and if those involved were proven to be EdU students, an independent disciplinary committee with student representatives on board would be established to follow up.
He said police would not be called in to help. Cheung also denied allegations that the school had deliberately leaked CCTV footage related to the Choi message.
Local media had earlier obtained a screengrab from a video taken at the time the poster was put up, showing two men. The picture was published with the faces of the men blurred.
“We hope the public can give us some time and space to deal with it according to our established procedures,” Cheung said, adding that the leak had been reported to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.
He said the school was unable to identify the two suspects who put up the Liu message. In the surveillance footage, the pair acted under cover of night in caps and hoodies.
In the first incident, a message of “congratulations” was addressed to Undersecretary for Education Christine Choi Yuk-lin after her son, Poon Hong-yan, plunged to his death from a luxury flat in Yau Ma Tei.
In the subsequent case, posters appeared at EdU “congratulating” late Chinese dissident and Nobel laureate Liu for dying and his wife, Liu Xia, for being under house arrest.
Both messages appeared over pro-independence and anti-independence messages plastered on the walls.
Cheung said the university management had “no plans” to take back control of the notice boards from student leaders.
Education University student union president Lala Lai Hiu-ching reiterated on Monday that it was not the union’s role to comment on the ethics of what was posted on the wall, and that it took down the messages only because they amounted to “personal attacks”, which were not allowed.
She pressed Cheung and the university management to apologise for the leaking of the CCTV images.
A joint statement issued by the student unions of 13 tertiary education institutions on Sunday night accused the government of “exerting pressure on university authorities to punish those whose speech may have intimidated the people in power”.
“Universities are where thoughts and opinions are exchanged, and democracy walls are platforms for students to speak their minds. The regime is now making an explicit effort to limit our freedom of expression,” it said. “While such slogans are inappropriate, we also find them excusable.”
“Student unions condemn the authorities of EdU for creating white terror and request the authorities give a proper response regarding the leak of the CCTV footage.”
Meanwhile, advertisements were also taken out in Monday newspapers by a group of Chinese University alumni from “all over the world” condemning the advocacy of Hong Kong independence at the university.
Separately, all 39 pro-establishment lawmakers in the Legislative Council have written a joint petition to Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung, urging him “to stay in close contact with various tertiary institutions, and be kept up to date” on their follow-ups regarding pro-independence banners on campuses.
“Hong Kong universities should be prevented from being used as places to promote the city’s independence … The campus should be a healthy environment for learning,” the statement read.
They also said it was “saddening” to see posters at EdU targeting Choi.
On Monday afternoon, a group of district councillors from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong filed a report at the police headquarters in Wan Chai.
They urged the police commissioner to “be concerned and strictly enforce the law” on people who put up pro-independence banners in tertiary institutions.