My Take

The topsy-turvy world of university politics in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 August, 2015, 2:03am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 August, 2015, 2:03am

Imagine the following scenario.

A couple of openly pro-Beijing academics at a prominent local university accept donations from another pro-Beijing personality worth HK$1.45 million in the university's name and use some of that money for activities completely unrelated to academia. Worse, it's passed on to political activities that not only promote Beijing's agendas in Hong Kong but possibly violate local laws.

They are found out. A university committee investigates and finds they fail to follow internal guidelines. Our pro-Beijing academics cry foul and claim those guidelines were vague to begin with so they are really the blameless ones. Of course, their excuse is being seen for what it is, and is duly ridiculed and denounced as self-serving.

But somehow common sense takes flight when those imaginary characters are bona fide pan-democratic academics like Occupy co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting, pollster Robert Chung Ting-yiu and law don Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun. Suddenly ordinary rules don't seem to apply or if they do, it's political persecution. The donations were made by an anonymous donor and handled by Occupy co-founder the Reverend Chu Yiu-ming as a middleman to Tai.

Now it's the university that is cravenly persecuting them, some pan-democrats claim, as our heroes-victims say they were misled by "unclear" donation guidelines. It looks like the pan-democratic academics, along with humanities professor Daniel Chui, will face the music after all. Actually, it's more like a slap on the wrist. No one is being demoted or sacked. Tai may be banned from taking up managerial positions for three years and not allowed to accept donations or supervise researchers. Chui and Chung face comparable penalities.

But Chan is even being promoted, though the appointment has been held up and turned into a cause célèbre by pan-democrats and their storm troopers, our celebrated university student activists. In the real world, delaying his appointment would be perfectly normal as the guy is under a cloud over the donation scandal. But no, that's academic interference and threat to university autonomy, say the pan-dems and 300 academics. That's the topsy-turvy world we live in.