Let’s bid good riddance to Peter Mathieson

Outgoing vice chancellor of the University of Hong Kong was no friend to the city, no matter how he tries to spin his tale

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 January, 2018, 1:31am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 January, 2018, 1:31am

Arthur Li Kwok-cheung is barking up the wrong tree. His beef should be with his departing colleague Peter Mathieson, not this newspaper. Mathieson, the outgoing University of Hong Kong chief, has often tried to have it both ways. Now that he has prematurely resigned from HKU to take up the top job at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, he has hinted that he was being squeezed out by Professor Li, chairman of the HKU’s governing council.

In a controversial interview with the Post, he said Li did not discuss renewing his contract after it had entered the fourth year of a five-year term. That was why when Edinburgh came calling, he jumped at the chance. Whatever the truth, Li should be pretty upset to hear such a public claim from Mathieson. But who cares! Professor Mathieson is clearly less than fully committed to HKU or our city, though he has claimed otherwise. His departure is not to be regretted.

HKU council chairman calls Post interview with outgoing vice chancellor Peter Mathieson ‘fake news’

He said Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong had contacted him “several times”, as did local government officials and politicians of all stripes. “Basically, I do what I believe to be in the best interest of the university,” Mathieson said.

I think it was this claim about the liaison office that upset Li and led him to accuse the Post of reporting “fake news”. Li read it as claiming that Beijing was interfering in HKU affairs. But the report made no such claim, though Ip Kin-yuen, the troublesome pan-democrat lawmaker for education, did try to fan the flames and called on Mathieson to spill the beans.

Outgoing HKU chief says Beijing officials have met him ‘several times’ and wishes higher education ‘wasn’t so politicised’

But Mathieson wasn’t trying to be a whistle-blower. He has been under criticism, though, from the yellow-ribbon media and Academic Staff Association at HKU for supposedly failing to stand up for free speech by joining the heads of nine other universities in a joint statement stating “freedom of expression is not absolute” and describing calls for Hong Kong independence on campuses as “abuses”.

A turbulent tenure: HKU vice chancellor reflects on his time at the helm of Hong Kong’s oldest university

I thought it was rather brave of the university chiefs, even though Mathieson’s action had been reported by anti-China British newspapers like The Guardian in less than flattering terms. In an interview with The Scotsman, he had tried to play down his involvement and claimed he signed the joint statement to avoid “isolation”.

Whatever, professor! We hope you do better in Scotland than you did in Hong Kong.