Hong Kong University chaos is unacceptable under any circumstances

The latest clash does not instil pride and confidence in our tertiary students, nor does it help restore the university’s reputation as one of Asia’s finest

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 January, 2016, 10:20pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 January, 2016, 10:20pm

The campus of the University of Hong Kong has degenerated into chaos again. Upset by what they saw as tactics to delay a review on the university’s governance structure, hordes of students clashed with police officers on Tuesday as they tried to block new council chairman Arthur Li Kwok-cheung and other members from leaving the campus in the late evening. This came despite a unanimous council decision to review governance with an independent committee.

In the wake of the perceived interference in the university’s independence and a class boycott by some 200 students, emotions are understandably high. But the circumstances can hardly justify irrational behaviour. Last summer, some students stormed a council meeting after the university’s highest governing body had voted to delay the appointment of Johannes Chan Man-mun as one of the pro-vice-chancellors, a move critics said was political backlash against the liberal scholar for his affiliation with pro-democracy Occupy protests organiser Benny Tai Yiu-ting.

What the students did this time was equally unacceptable. They besieged the venue, blocked passageways and clashed with police officers, apparently having been misled to believe that their demand for a review had been stalled. A council member feeling unwell and requiring medical assistance was blocked from leaving the campus. University chief Peter Mathieson later expressed disappointment over the students’ action, saying he felt his life was in danger.

The decision to set up a review panel should have been welcomed by the students. It was agreed by all council members, including the students’ elected representative. He said the outcome was a pleasant surprise, adding that he did not find it unreasonable to wait for a University Grants Committee’s consultancy report on university governance, which is due in one or two months. But other students feared that the council was dragging its feet, referring to their experience in Chan’s case.

Trust and cooperation do not come from antagonism and confrontation. The council has taken the first step to address students’ concerns. But this was not reciprocated with a positive response. As in the previous stand-off, the latest clash does not instil pride and confidence in our tertiary students; nor does it help restore the university’s reputation as one of Asia’s finest. A dialogue between Li and the students is expected to be held within 10 days. It is to be hoped that rationality can prevail.