My Take

The collateral damage at HKU of the Johannes Chan Man-mun decision

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 October, 2015, 1:50am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 October, 2015, 9:32am

I have no idea if Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun is a distinguished or mediocre legal scholar and administrator. Credible people for or against him have made contradictory claims. But I do know the furore over Chan's failed appointment to a top managerial post at the University of Hong Kong has seriously hurt two of Hong Kong's most distinguished scientists who sat on the university council that made the decision against Chan. In doing so, it has seriously hurt the very institution activists now claim to protect.

Professors Lo Chung-mau and Yuen Kwok-yung have been the collateral damage from the latest battle waged by pan-democrats, HKU student leaders and some alumni and academics. Since Chan's appointment was turned into a pan-democratic cause, its political fallout has claimed many victims.

Yuen, a microbiologist and one of the world's great virus hunters, quit his council post after student activists violently stormed a council meeting in late July. Explaining his decision, he wrote: "Though there are injustices in the system, we will not succeed to change it by verbal and physical violence. As such actions will only bring out the darkest side of human [nature] and open the door for the intrusion by Satan."

Lo, a world-renowned liver transplant specialist whose team has made many advances and saved countless lives, has been turned into a villain and a target for cyber-harassment.

Lo may be right or wrong in reportedly voting against Chan, but I hardly think he is in Beijing's pocket given his exalted position and prestige within the medical community.

We have seen this movie before. Ex-HKU chief Tsui Lap-chee, a world-famous geneticist, was practically chased out by student activists despite repeatedly making humiliating public apologies for the handling of security of a campus visit made by then-vice-premier Li Keqiang in 2011.

HKU is already slipping in several key global surveys of university rankings. Much has been said about academic freedom and autonomy. These may be defended by anyone.

But those beautiful phrases are meaningless without academic excellence, and the exceptionally brilliant men and women who make it possible.