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Universities in Hong Kong

Explain pro-Beijing university president’s new five-year term, Hong Kong students warn, or face ‘consequences’

Lingnan University student union decries lack of transparency and now demands open meeting with institution’s governing council

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2018, 7:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2018, 9:56pm

Student leaders at a Hong Kong liberal arts university are warning of “consequences” if the school does not properly explain the justification behind a pro-Beijing scholar’s reappointment as president for five more years.

The Lingnan University student union decried what it called a lack of transparency over the decision by the institution’s governing council to extend Professor Leonard Cheng Kwok-hon’s contract, which was to expire in August.

It said the students’ wishes to have him replaced had fallen on deaf ears. The union now demands an open meeting with the council.

After nearly a month of speculation, the university confirmed on Monday that Cheng, 65, would get another term as president starting in September and running to 2023.

An acclaimed economics professor who spent two decades at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Cheng has earned mixed reviews since taking office in 2013.

During his four years in office, Cheng was often an enemy of students
Lingnan University Student Union statement

Some praised his efforts in leading the university to new heights. In 2015, Forbes rated it the ninth best liberal arts college in Asia. And for the first time, it entered the top 100 in the latest QS Asia University Rankings.

But the pro-democracy student union has consistently been at odds with Cheng, whose close ties with former chief executive Leung Chun-ying made him even more unpopular.

“During his four years in office, Cheng was often an enemy of students,” a union statement read.

Describing Cheng as a “political puppet”, it accused Cheng of suppressing freedom of speech, citing a warning issued to former associate Chinese professor Horace Chin Wan-kan, a localist advocate.

The group also blasted a rule prohibiting the student union chief from taking part in the appointment of the university’s president and staff members, in stark contrast to other tertiary institutions in Hong Kong.

“We had demanded the president selection committee set up an open consultation platform and take on our views,” the union said. “But we only found out Cheng’s appointment via the media, and this is absurd.”

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The student union was now demanding the council disclose the justification for retaining Cheng, or else “they would bear the consequences”.

Union leader Ryan Lee warned of a rowdy protest at the council’s next meeting on February 12.

“I cannot rule out the possibility of physical contact ... It depends how many of us turn up on the day,” he said, claiming the union had exhausted all means of voicing its demands.

The university did not respond to a request for comment.