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Universities in Hong Kong

Former Hong Kong professor sold flat and car to fund legal case against Chinese University

Julie Yu Hung-hsua, 62, calls for academic integrity after school reverses grades for MBA students to allow them to graduate

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 November, 2017, 7:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 November, 2017, 9:06am

Retired professor Julie Yu Hung-hsua has sold her car and her flat to pay legal fees for court appeals stretching almost three years, over a case where Chinese University reversed failing grades she gave to four MBA students.

Yu, 62, is now appealing to the university’s incoming vice-chancellor to grant justice and uphold academic integrity. Biotechnology scientist Rocky Tuan Sung-chi will succeed Joseph Sung Jao-yiu as head of Chinese University in 2018.

“I sincerely hope that he, in this leadership role, will look into my case as soon as possible to make the grade appeal process transparent and put in checks and balances,” said Yu, a former associate professor of marketing who retired in 2015 after 27 years of teaching.

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In 2014, Yu failed four students in their MBA course, but the university’s examination panel still allowed them to graduate after they filed a complaint.

She said she had spent “millions of dollars”, and sold her flat and car, to bring the university to court three times to answer for its actions.

“I was kept in the dark throughout the entire process, even though I kept asking about the status of the grade appeals on a weekly basis,” Yu said.

The students had obtained a D+ from Yu for a compulsory marketing course, over their substandard performance in practical and written assignments.

In response to their complaints, Yu had explained the marking process to the students with a table showing data on their attendance and class contributions. The four appealed to the university after Yu refused to change their grades and allow them to pass.

Two months later, Yu was told that the four D+ grades were lifted to C by a three-member examination panel set up to handle the complaints. Yu said the panel refused to explain the decision, and only consulted her once through email asking about her grading system and whether she made it clear to the students.

“I made a few calls to some administrative staff. Every single one said: ‘What? You didn’t know? I thought you approved [the university’s decision],’” Yu said.

In the subsequent seven months, Yu tried to seek an internal solution by requesting documents, lodging a formal complaint and asking her superiors to step in. However, neither the dean nor the vice-chancellor intervened.

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The faculty said it had no mechanism to review the panel’s decision.

In April 2015, believing in her “undeniable right to be informed and heard”, Yu lodged a judicial review against the “illogical, irrational, inconsistent and arbitrary” decision by the panel.

In July this year the Court of Final Appeal denied her appeal against the Court of First Instance’s rejection of her case, because it was considered an academic issue and her application came too late. The retroactive period of judicial review is three months.

Despite the “tremendous toll” on her physical, mental and financial resources, Yu said she had no regrets.

“My case actually involved much more significant issues – academic integrity and academic standards – which must be upheld and maintained,” she said.

Chinese University said it implemented a well-established and comprehensive assessment policy that maintained a fair, just and transparent approach to assess the academic performance of students.

Ng Shun-wing, former department head of education policy at the Education University, said an opaque regrading procedure would affect academic integrity, and the course instructor must be informed and involved with “due respect”.

“[In such cases], we will ask another teacher to grade the student independently. If necessary, we will ask for a third independent grading,” Ng said, adding that a coordinator would update all stakeholders and mediate the process.

Yu called for a reform of the grade appeal process at Chinese University, saying this would contribute to the sustainability of the city’s education industry, especially with the increasing threat of commercialisation.

The Post could not reach the students involved in the case.