Academic says teacher college council failed to respond before public furore The Hong Kong Institute of Education's ruling council was informed of alleged government intervention months ahead of the scandal breaking in the media, a senior academic has claimed. In an e-mail sent to council members just before the Lunar New Year, Gregory Thomas, a member of the council, said the institute's president, Paul Morris, had referred to government interference in an internal document in November, and he recalled Professor Morris had mentioned it in a council meeting in early December. Both the document and the meeting were related to Professor Morris' reappointment, which was rejected late last month, sparking the current controversy. Professor Thomas quoted Professor Morris' self-review document as saying: 'I have always operated with integrity and put the interests of the institute as paramount. This may have a negative effect on my relationship with senior personnel in government as I have had to protect staff from attempts to limit their autonomy and capacity to express their views publicly ... I believe it is vital for the long-term development of the HKIEd that we do not return to a situation where all aspects of our work are essentially determined by government.' However, he said no council members had questioned Professor Morris about the issue at the time. 'The point I wanted to make was that nobody questioned this until it was brought up in the media,' said Professor Thomas, head of the institute's department of mathematics, science, social sciences and technology. 'The issues of autonomy and transparency and process, which are sacrosanct in most universities, are really under pressure here.' The majority of council members come from outside the institute and are appointed by the government. Professor Thomas said yesterday none of them had responded to his e-mail. 'I wonder if we are about to witness numerous 'Road to Damascus' conversions in the council chamber in the next meeting, with academic freedom and autonomy being given sudden prominence, new-found respect and pledges of reverence and loyalty,' he wrote in the e-mail. But a council member, who asked not to be named, said Professor Morris was unwilling to give the specifics of allegations of government interference at a January 25 meeting, an adjournment of the December meeting. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen ordered a judicial inquiry last week into the allegations of government interference. Professor Morris claimed council chairman Thomas Leung Kwok-fai had told him last June that his reappointment would hinge on accepting a merger with Chinese University, something he said that education minister Arthur Li Kwok-cheung was pushing for. His claims were backed by academic vice-president Bernard Luk Hung-kay, but Dr Leung and Professor Li have denied the charges. Professor Morris could not be reached for comment yesterday. Speaking at a media reception yesterday, Chinese University vice-chancellor Lawrence Lau Juen-yee said Professor Li had never raised the subject of a merger with the HKIEd, and the university had not considered one.