Sacking Benny Tai would not achieve anything, just let him discredit himself
There is no point in creating another martyr for the opposition to rally around. In the meantime, our universities should get on with teaching
Many pro-establishment figures want to see the back of Benny Tai Yiu-ting. At least one lawmaker says he should be sacked from the University of Hong Kong for “poisoning” young minds.
Former Bar Association chairman and senior counsel Paul Shieh Wing-tai said Tai, an associate law professor and Occupy Central co-founder, “had a lot to answer for”.
That’s true, but most likely, Tai will not be held accountable. As an academic, he is politically untouchable at HKU; he knows it and we know it. That’s why he still flouts his views before TV cameras.
To be fair, Tai is not the only one. His Occupy colleague, Chan Kin-man, is an associate sociology professor at Chinese University. Yet, somehow, Tai gets all the bad press.
There are good reasons not to target them for dismissal, both ethical and practical, at least for now. Universities, especially those with a long established tradition, are usually full of people with eccentric ideas who have never worked a day in the real world. Some of these ideas can be wacky and even pernicious. Controversies arise when they try to put those ideas into practice.
Tai and Chan have a peculiar idea of “civil disobedience”. The Occupy protests of 2014 and the Mong Kok riot of 2016 have been the results. From the start, the Occupy movement didn’t work out the way they had planned. So to what extent were they responsible?
Both are facing charges of causing a public nuisance for their roles in the 2014 street protests and will appear again in court next month. So their culpability is a matter for the court to decide. Without a court ruling against them, it would be difficult to launch administrative processes legally required at their universities to dismiss them.
But why did their idea catch on? They are a symptom, not the disease. Getting rid of them will solve nothing. That would just turn them into another cause celebre for the opposition and provide more excuses for student radicals to turn their campuses into battlefields. Tai and Chan are ideologues. You can argue with them and let them discredit themselves. Give them enough rope, they will.
Our universities have had enough political struggle and deserve calm to carry on with what they are supposed to do – to teach, to learn and to research.