Lingnan University council chairman Bernard Chan yesterday rejected students' demands for an open "one-man, one-vote" election of their president.
The appointment of new president Leonard Cheng Kwok-hon, dean of the University of Science and Technology's school of business and economics, has sparked anger, with students saying they had no voice.
"They want one-man, one-vote," said Chan on a radio show yesterday. "I'm also a board member of an American university. In a democratic country … they don't have the right to a one-man, one-vote method of choosing their president either."
Chan said it was difficult for the students to elect their president on a universal suffrage basis - or even the council chairperson, who is now appointed directly by the chief executive - but he agreed that student representatives should be given the right to vote on future presidents.
"We've been asking for a timetable [for boosting student representation]," said Vivian Yip Wing-lam, president of the student union. "But there never is one."
Students have expressed concerns over Cheng's ties with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. He was one of the 11 members of Leung's election campaign team.
He is also part of a think tank formed by pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun to discuss political reform and universal suffrage.
Students have said they may boycott classes at the start of the academic year, and may also consider not paying tuition fees.
One Lingnan faculty member said views on Cheng's appointment were hard to gather among faculty members, as the summer break had begun. But they did not have a stance on whether students should take action. "They're adults … We're open-minded to this," he said.
In October last year, the university council set up a nine-member committee to search for a new president to succeed Professor Chan Yuk-shee, who resigned amid a row over enrolments for self-funded associate degree programmes. The committee included Yip as an observer with no voting power. Cheng was the only candidate recommended by the committee.
At Lingnan, a government-funded liberal arts university, Cheng attended a consultation session on Monday with about 300 faculty members and students as slogans were chanted against him.
"Some students have to improve the way they talk and their attitude," Chan said. "As a university, it's a platform for people to exchange [thoughts], it's not good to hurl abuse."