Doubts about expat tipped to be HKU head

Recommendation for new vice-chancellor is questioned by president of staff association

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 October, 2013, 2:34am

The prospect that the University of Hong Kong could have its first expatriate vice-chancellor in a decade was called into question yesterday when the staff association expressed "disappointment" at the idea.

Stephen Chan Chit-kwai, president of the staff association, which represents about 2,000 people, said he was worried that Professor Peter William Mathieson lacked the desired academic standing and management experience to succeed Professor Tsui Lap-chee.

The university announced on Monday that Mathieson, now dean of medicine and dentistry at the University of Bristol, had been recommended by an 11-member selection committee to become the 102-year-old institution's next head.

"I am a bit disappointed, because it has taken so long and they only managed to find someone like [Mathieson]," Chan said.

"He doesn't have a very high academic standing, there's some distance between [him] and Tsui."

Tsui was a highly regarded geneticist before becoming the 14th vice-chancellor.

"Regarding management experience, [Mathieson] wasn't even a pro-vice-chancellor … I talked to a professor from our medical school and he also thinks [Mathieson's] curriculum vitae is ordinary," Chan said.

Mathieson will meet the university's staff, students, alumni, and senate on Friday before meeting the university's governing council, which will decide whether to endorse the selection committee's recommendation. Chan said he wanted to ask Mathieson how, as a British scholar, he would overcome cultural differences and ensure effective communication with relevant stakeholders.

But he would not strongly oppose the recommendation because many staff members were hoping the selection could be completed before Tsui's term ends in February. He said he believed it likely the council would approve the panel's choice.

Speaking after yesterday's National Day reception, Dr Leong Che-hung, who chairs both the committee and the council, said the latter would not be a rubber stamp.

"It could say 'no'," Leong said. "We will consider the views of staff, students and alumni … it is a very democratic process."

He suggested that Mathieson's interpersonal skills could help him handle politically sensitive issues.

If appointed, Mathieson will become HKU's first non-Chinese vice-chancellor since Professor William Ian Rees Davies, who headed the institution from 2000 to 2002; and its second since Dr Kenneth Robinson's tenure from 1965 to 1972.