Our scholars need a lesson in honesty

A group of academics have banded together to oppose changes to the procedural rule book of the Legislative Council, but why should their (slanted) views be any more valid that those of a taxi driver?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2017, 10:55pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2017, 10:59pm

A group of more than 25 university lecturers have formed an alliance and declared themselves against rewriting the rule book of the Legislative Council – while exploiting the prestige of their academic titles.

As citizens, they have every right to express an opinion for or against the overhaul, which aims to curb the ability of the opposition to launch filibustering and other delaying tactics in Legco. But why do they think their individual university employment titles and collective identity as professional academics matter – unless, that is, to create a false and elitist impression that they have special insights and knowledge and we don’t?

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“We, the undersigned scholars, …” they wrote, then listed their university titles.

Chinese traditionally have a special respect for scholars. In the contemporary world, this means someone with a PhD and/or employed at a university with a professorial title. Here, I include assistant and associate professors, and honorary lecturers on temporary contracts. We still seem to assume such people possess special knowledge and insights. And they do, but only in their particular scientific and literary fields.

Some of them no doubt think they are special. But if you think about it, are they really any more insightful than a well-informed taxi driver who spends all day listening to the radio and hourly news in his car? Professional scholars are rarely superior when it comes to matters that concern ordinary citizens. The fact that many spend their entire lives in an academic setting should give you pause.

The online statement published by the group of academics essentially repeats the same arguments against rewriting the Legco rules and procedures that have already been voiced by the opposition. In fact, if you look up those names, some of them are card-carrying party members of the opposition and/or long-time supporters. Why not just be honest and declare yourselves writing as or for the opposition?

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The problem with this battle is that the government-friendly lawmakers, for once, have managed to present a simple and coherent message, which is that for years, the opposition is opposing for its own sake and holding up important legislative business.

The opposition, however, has made a complete mess of it; worse, it reinforces the pro-government message by creating more disruptions and chaos in Legco to try to stall the rule overhaul.

But it’s late in the day and they have already lost the battle.