Hong Kong students are there to learn not administer

Under the guise of defending academic freedom and autonomy, a small minority – and a few of their anti-government teachers – are advancing their own political agenda

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 January, 2018, 3:58am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 January, 2018, 3:58am

Concerns about academic freedom and university autonomy are again in the news. This is because two of Hong Kong’s oldest universities will have new vice chancellors. These days, virtually any senior appointment at a public university can cause a furore for the sole reason that a small but vocal group of radical localist students will always make a fuss, regardless of the merit of the appointment.

Professor Rocky Tuan Sung-chi, a top biomedical researcher, will head Chinese University, while Professor Zhang Xiang, a specialist in mechanical engineering, will take up the top post at the University of Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Lingnan University is expected to renew the contract of Professor Leonard Cheng Kwok-hon.

Chinese University chief keeps it short on independence question

Predictably, student union leaders have protested all three appointments. The common complaint is that they were not consulted, or at least not adequately so. It has always puzzled me why such students think they should be consulted when they are there to study at taxpayers’ expense, not to help administer the school.

Universities may teach about democracy, but they are not a democracy, and students are not voters. Even so, Lingnan University student leaders are upset because they were barred from attending meetings on the reappointment of Cheng.

Well, both HKU and Chinese University allowed student representatives to attend such meetings and that didn’t stop them from complaining about the appointments. There is a simple reason: no amount of consultation will satisfy such students short of letting them appoint their own professors. But for that, we will need a 1960s-style cultural revolution.

I am sure all three academics will do fine. They are certainly no threat to academic freedom and institutional autonomy. So why do such concerns keep coming up?

Yes to free speech, no to free-for-all on university campuses

This is because a handful of students are agitating for radical localism and Hong Kong independence, and demand they have the right to do so in any manner they choose on campus. Any obstacles they face from university administrators will immediately be denounced as persecution and suppression.

Under the guise of defending academic freedom and autonomy, this small student minority – and a few of their anti-government teachers – are advancing their own political agenda. What’s worse is that opposition politicians, fearing they might alienate young people, not only fail to speak out but offer every encouragement and inducement to take on universities.

Such politicalisation has spread to secondary schools. That is most unforgivable.