An Executive Council member's provocative criticism of University of Hong Kong scholars and student activists has backfired, with a staff association flagging up a poll in which more than four in five people urge him to quit the institution's governing body. A former law dean also weighed in. Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun questioned Exco member Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung's understanding of the role of academics when Li accused HKU scholars on Tuesday of taking the easy way out instead of doing their jobs properly. Chan said yesterday that engagement with community and social issues formed a key part of HKU's academic mission. If university staff simply buried themselves in writing scholastic papers without caring about what was happening elsewhere, "the university will soon go back to becoming an ivory tower, irrelevant [in society and] failing in its duties", he told the South China Morning Post. Li raised eyebrows after he hit out at HKU scholars who "take the salary and disappear off into Neverland" instead of focusing on teaching and research. He also said students "like to be heroes" in front of their girlfriends by joining protests. Dr Cheung Sing-wai, chairman of HKU's Academic Staff Association, urged Li to quit the university's council in a letter to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who appointed Li to the body last month. The association found 85 per cent of 152 employees had "no confidence" Li's role on the council would benefit HKU, in its poll from March 24 to April 7. Some 87 per cent said he was unsuitable to be the next chairman, a post he has been tipped to take over this year. Chan disagreed with Li, a medical scholar, saying not all academics carried out research on campus only. "Scholars of science and medicine do their research by writing proposals and conducting experiments in laboratories. Those in arts, humanities and social sciences conduct their research in the community … The community is their laboratory and engagement is the key." Chan, who led the HKU law school for 12 years until last year, added the university's vision "is ultimately to train intellectuals". "Intellectuals are more than a researcher hiding behind research proposals. Research is … necessary, but it is not sufficient for a modern university."