A staff union will seek clarification from the Baptist University president today as to whether former dean Professor Zhao Xinshu can continue to teach until he turns 60.
Zhao, who is 57, resigned on February 6 as dean of communications over a scandal involving the early release of a poll on the chief executive race. He also quit as director of the HongCOMM Survey Lab, which conducted the poll.
A probe found Zhao had not been politically influenced, but no answer was given as to why the results of the popularity poll on chief executive candidates Henry Tang Ying-yen and Leung Chun-ying were leaked.
Zhao is currently on leave, but returned to the university yesterday to teach four postgraduate students. He would not say whether or not he has tenure. 'I have already made my statement, I have nothing to add,' he said. 'I need to teach.'
He had blacked out classroom windows with paper and tried to dodge media by hiding in his office.
But academics and students at the university wanted to know why Zhao remains on its teaching staff.
To Yiu-ming, a spokesman for the faculty and staff union, said he was told Zhao was still occupying the dean's office and that he had a tenured contract as a chair professor - meaning he can teach until the retirement age of 60, and even beyond, without his contract being reviewed.
'We've heard that he's a tenured chair professor, but we wonder why. We will seek clarification from the university, and if the answer is yes, they need to provide an explanation to taxpayers,' To said. The university reviews staff contracts every two to three years, he said. Tenured staff can only be dismissed for misconduct.
To said it was normally difficult for academic staff to get a tenured contract. 'You usually have to teach here for at least eight to 10 years,' he said.
University president Professor Albert Chan Sun-chi said earlier Zhao could continue teaching as he was internationally recognised and the scandal was the result of a 'technical misjudgment', not misconduct.
A source familiar with the situation said Chan held a lunch last week with 50 to 60 employees in his former residence at Shiu Pong Hall. At the lunch, Chan told staff not to pursue the contract issue regarding Zhao as he was a tenured employee. He told staff that the early release of the poll result was a misjudgment on Zhao's part - not misconduct or an integrity issue. And, according to the source, he said if Zhao's contract was terminated he could sue the university.
Chan was also worried that if Zhao was fired, other tenured staff would feel insecure, the source said.
Zhao released data after 836 people had been polled, showing Tang had narrowed the gap on Leung Chun-ying to 6.5 percentage points. The final result based on a sample of 1,005 people showed Leung to be 8.9 points more popular than Tang. Key questions were unanswered in a university panel report on the matter. They included why, before the survey was officially released, Tang's campaign communications adviser contacted the research centre to ask about it, and why the Sing Tao Daily was able to report on it.
A Baptist University spokesman refused to say whether Zhao's contract was tenured, or how many other teaching staff had similar contracts, citing privacy concerns. He said such appointments were made based on academic achievement and leadership. He also noted that due process and procedures had to be followed in dismissing tenured staff.
Former university president Professor Ng Ching-fai, who recruited Zhao in 2007 and is now president of the United International College in Zhuhai , declined to comment.