Teacher institute head sent on leave, denied professorship The controversy over the Hong Kong Institute of Education has taken a fresh twist, with its ruling council ordering Paul Morris to go on immediate leave as its president, and deciding not to keep him on as a teacher when his term ends in September. The council said yesterday's decision to send him on leave would enable the institute to 'turn a new leaf'. Professor Morris condemned it as unnecessary. Lawmakers, staff and student representatives called it unreasonable and irrational. Some lawmakers called it revenge for his part in the recent commission of inquiry into interference in the institute's autonomy, whose findings led former chief education civil servant Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun to quit as anti-graft chief. Professor Morris said a council subcommittee had issued a directive saying: 'With the president becoming a central character in the committee of inquiry, the committee has requested that the president be directed to take leave immediately and that he be directed not to make any public statement in relation to the HKIEd while on leave.' He said: 'I hope this decision doesn't send the wrong message to the academic community about the value the council places on academic freedom.' The institute's ruling council made the decision at a meeting to discuss whether or not to offer Professor Morris a four-year professorship at the end of his term as president in September. The body, which is dominated by political appointees, voted 13 to five against offering him the job. Council vice-chairman Eddie Ng Hak-kim said Professor Morris had been sent on leave to allow a new management team to take over as soon as possible. Academic vice-president Lee Wing-on will serve as acting president. Mr Ng said the professor's contract stated he would be offered a professorship until 2011 if his performance as president was satisfactory. Council members felt there was some room for improvement in the president's performance, but said individual members had their own reasons for the decision. Speaking in a personal capacity as he was about to fly to Britain, Professor Morris said he was surprised the subcommittee set up to review the inquiry findings had come to the conclusion he should be sent on immediate leave and not be allowed to make any public statements. 'Given the inquiry found there had been interference with academic freedom and I had not allowed that pressure to affect any decision in relation to HKIEd, to ask me take leave immediately comes as a real surprise.' The inquiry was set up by the chief executive in February to probe allegations Secretary for Education and Manpower Arthur Li Kwok-cheung had attempted to force the institute to merge with Chinese University and that Mrs Law had asked Professor Morris to fire four academics critical of education reforms. It found there was insufficient evidence Professor Li had interfered with the institute's autonomy. However, it said Mrs Law had attempted to interfere with academic freedom in regard to two of the academics. Democrat Cheung Man-kwong, the legistor representing the education sector, said sending the president on leave was the council's revenge. 'I can't believe the council has made such an unwise decision,' he said. Civic Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said it was ridiculous to ask Professor Morris to 'pay a price' for pointing out the wrongdoing of government officials. Jane Leung Chi-yan, head of the institute students' union, was shocked. 'How does the decision promote development of the institute?' she said. Academic Staff Association vice-chairman Leung Yan-wing said he feared the public would interpret the decision as revenge on the president.