My Take

Devotion to justice should not compromise education

University students face a choice: spend their time fighting the ‘evils’ in their world, or dedicate themselves for three or four years to learning

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 April, 2016, 12:24am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 May, 2016, 8:36pm

Is there anything in common between the nonagenarian co-founder of a local university and one of Britain’s most notorious artists?

Well, both seem to hold the view that the role of students is to study and learn. This is considered a quaint or even offensive belief in Hong Kong today.

“When I was a student I made the most of it, going in 12 hours a day, on weekends,” said Tracey Emin, Britain’s hottest “bad girl” artist who once made an artwork of her unmade bed.

“All I did was go to college to be a student. I tell the students to stop trying to be a good artist. You’re not. You’re a student.

“Concentrate on being a good student and learn as much as possible.”

And the 96-year-old Dr Henry Hu Hung-lick, co-founder of Shue Yan University, said: “Students should focus on knowledge and study. That I think is the most important for them.”

Both are voicing an eternal truth that will be forever ignored by young people, especially those university students too impatient to join and change the real world.

University is a period of three to four years during which children make the transition to becoming adults while being shielded from the terrible storms and stresses that plague adult lives.

It is to create a unique public/private space within which young maturing minds may consider and study all manners of customs and all sorts of ideas, however strange, impractical or repulsive.

This, at any rate, is how I understand academic freedom and autonomy. It’s about being able to study and conduct research on whatever you like for the life of the mind, not about fighting or imposing what you think is right or noble on others who you think are not right or noble like you.

But young people today are not only desperate to experience the storms and stresses but to invite them into their own campuses. They must do so because there are “evils” in their world: Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, Beijing, our property tycoons …

There will always be evil in this world.

The question they should ask is: are those “evils” bad enough that they must waste or compromise their education to fight them?

Or are they just children playing an adult’s game?