It was the ending everyone was waiting for; the story about who would stay and who would go. There had been alleged threats and betrayals. Professors claimed they were under attack. There was the ministry, with its 'king' and loyal deputy. Finally it was published, revealing one of the characters to have been found wanting. She went. Sitting in the snug of the Foreign Correspondents' Club bar on Harry Potter weekend, former president of the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd) Paul Morris smiled at the thought that the report of the 39-day, HK$25 million commission of inquiry into allegations of government interference in the institute's affairs had the hallmark of a great work of fiction. Nursing a pint of beer, Professor Morris, 56, was looking relaxed for the first time in months. 'Well, it's probably an illustration of that adage that real life is sort of stranger than fiction,' he said. Barely a week after he resigned as HKIEd president, Professor Morris was reflecting for the first time on the events that led to the inquiry, his gruelling seven days on the witness stand and the outcome. All four key players in the inquiry have now left the posts they held during the hearings. Former secretary for education and manpower Arthur Li Kwok-cheung ('King Arthur' as he was described at one time in the hearings) was cleared of two of the inquiry's three allegations - that he tried to force the institute to merge with Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and that he warned former institute academic vice-president Bernard Luk Hung-kay that the institute would have 'to pay' for failing to condemn teacher protests. His credibility as a witness, however, was questioned by the commission. Professor Li was replaced by Michael Suen Ming-yeung in Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's 'cabinet' reshuffle. Professor Li's then deputy, former permanent secretary for education and manpower, Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun, was found wanting on part of the third allegation, that she tried to get academics sacked or silenced for criticising the government's education reforms. She resigned from her post as commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption. Professor Luk, the man whose allegations in a 10,000-character essay on the HKIEd's intranet in February led to the inquiry, has since returned to Canada to teach. Professor Morris, whose contract was not renewed by the HKIEd council in January and was due to leave in September, has resigned to take up a chair professorship at the Institute of Education in London. He starts in October. Professor Morris said the issues that led to the inquiry had 'defined' his five years as president. 'It was a lot of things channelling into the same avenue,' he said. 'Why did it happen? One thing was that Arthur Li said publicly that Shue Yan College was going to be a university and HKIEd wasn't. That got the staff and students upset. Secondly, you have the exercise of my non-reappointment, which was very crudely handled. That got Bernard upset. He thought the council was playing cheap games to undermine me, which led him to write his essay. That was reported in the press. Questions were raised at the time when a chief executive election was going on. Then Legco began to call for an inquiry and international academics were asking questions. My take on this is that a quick way to dampen it all down was to create a commission of inquiry.' Professor Morris said Mrs Law's requests to silence dissenting staff and Professor Li's alleged pressure to merge with the CUHK had dominated his five years as president. The 'dissension' issue started with staff criticising education reforms and backing small-class teaching. Professor Morris said that when Mrs Law phoned to attempt to silence critics - including former HKIEd lecturer Ip Kin-yuen and Professor Cheng Yin-cheong - he was robust in his response. 'I told her, unless their views were immoral or illegal I suggest you either speak to them directly or write in to oppose them, use the media or something. If you want to speak to them, feel free. I'm certainly not going to put any pressure on my colleagues.' Although the commission doubted it had heard the whole truth, Professor Morris said he thought Mrs Law had come closest to telling it, and she had paid the price. The inquiry heard it was the merger issue that had led to council chairman Thomas Leung Kwok-fai allegedly warning him that unless he accepted the proposal his contract would not be renewed. Professor Morris said the disagreement started in 2002 after a meeting at the Jockey Club with Professor Li soon after he took up the post of secretary for education and manpower. He said he was made an offer to head a super teacher training department under CUHK, which he later rejected. 'The plan was based on a combination of things. One was that if HKIEd was to become part of CUHK it would save resources, then there was the idea that we'd attract better students if we became a part of CUHK, which I always thought was a very marginal argument. We've seen that the joint programmes we do with CUHK and other places don't attract stronger students than our own programmes.' With Professor Li allegedly threatening HKIEd with 'rape' if it didn't merge - the inquiry found that he 'more likely than not' used the word - and Dr Leung warning the institute would die 'from a thousand cuts' if it failed to do so, Professor Morris said a bad situation was becoming worse. He said an original five-member council sub-committee appointed to review his contract was effectively whittled down to three after the group voted to marginalise the role of two internal council members, and alleged that the race issue was played up to paint a negative image of him. 'The council decreed there be five members on the committee to review me, then they effectively excluded two internal ones. The legal question is can those five have a vote among themselves to marginalise two? That's what happened. That's extremely dubious. 'The first report on me was very crude. The race card was played extensively. When that report was written it divided up comments by using phrases like 'local staff said' and 'expat staff said'. If I did a report on a colleague like that I'd be pilloried. Having been in Hong Kong for 31 years, I can tell you there are far less problems at HKIEd than other places I have worked in. I think it was played up for all it was worth.' Professor Morris said he rejected criticism that he had developed 'a siege mentality', was 'oversensitive' or 'paranoid' and a finding in the report that 'vengefulness and other negative emotions were likely to have factored into the allegations'. 'The commission did make a lot of that but it also had a paragraph that said it was understandable for us to believe the bureau was out to undermine us with attempts to delay the institutional review [to gain self-accrediting status] and everything else that had gone on. If you put that together with the 'rape' threat, wouldn't you be a bit sensitive?' Despite the comments, the report also found Professor Morris to be a 'generally honest' and 'truthful' witness. Professor Morris said reducing the quota of student teachers for arts, music and PE in 2008-09 from 390 places to zero - a policy decision that was suddenly reversed during the inquiry - and the planned cut in student intake by 20 per cent in the 2009-2012 triennium were further evidence of the negative attitude towards HKIEd. Another pressing factor was long-term governance. It was 'unacceptable' for the HKIEd council to have external members from competing institutions. 'We have members who work for other faculties of education, that's day-to-day competition for courses and programmes. The future is tendered courses and competitive programmes. It is unacceptable,' he said. As to the outcome and the future, he said he was satisfied the commission had vindicated himself and Professor Luk by finding that academic freedom had been interfered with. The inquiry left him and Professor Luk looking at a HK$4 million to HK$5 million legal bill. He sold his flat to cover his share of the cost. But he said he preferred to focus on the people who supported the cause. 'I learned so much about people. What astonished me were the colleagues who stood up, like Magdalena Mok Mo-ching [who testified against her old schoolfriend Fanny Law], who chose truth over friendship. It wasn't a function of education, status or position in the hierarchy. Some of my most junior staff were the ones who stood by me during the inquiry.' Professor Morris said he didn't want to leave Hong Kong after 31 years and hadn't wanted it to 'end this way', but took heart from the fact that the inquiry had shown that Hong Kong respected the rule of law and that no one was above it. 'I can't think of any other Asian country where that could happen,' he said.