Sacked Macau academic becomes guest lecturer in Hong Kong

Democrat Bill Chou becomes guest lecturer in city after his Macau contract was not renewed amid claims he imposed his views on students

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 November, 2014, 6:08am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 November, 2014, 6:08am

An academic who lost his job at the University of Macau amid claims he imposed his political views on students has stepped into another febrile political atmosphere by becoming a guest lecturer in Hong Kong.

But Bill Chou Kuok-ping says he is so concerned about pressure on his new employer that he is not disclosing the name of the institution. "I don't want pro-government people from Macau to influence its personnel decisions," he told the Post.

Chou, vice-president of Macau's biggest pro-democracy group, the New Macau Association, arrives as students find themselves at the vanguard of the Occupy Central movement.

Chou's contract as an associate professor of political science was not renewed in August, two years after he began publicly advocating democracy in Macau. He had worked at the institution since 2002.

His treatment led to concerns that academic freedom was under threat. But he believes Hong Kong, where he grew up, is more open.

"Macau is a very conservative society. I feel that I have more freedom here," Chou says. "Hong Kong students are more open-minded, and socially and politically engaged. There's more vibrant public discussion and a more vibrant mass media.

"In Macau, the students don't care much about political and social affairs. There's an atmosphere of fear. They are afraid of saying something bad that might affect their future careers."

The University of Macau declined to answer questions about Chou's case. Its spokesman said "academic freedom is one of the core values of the university" and it would "continue to adhere to it".

Chou also released documents relating to the disciplinary procedure that led to his suspension and ultimate removal.

The documents include a report, marked confidential and written by the dean of social sciences, Professor Hao Yufan, to university rector Wei Zhao, on a preliminary investigation into two complaints about Chou.

One complaint - according to the report - came in an anonymous letter from "a group of alleged students". They said Chou incited them to join "extremist activities".

The second was from Hou Kong Middle School, which said Chou caused disruption by distributing leaflets outside its premises. The complaint was passed to the university by school vice-principal Chan Hong, now a lawmaker, through Chief Executive Dr Fernando Chui Sai-on and Macau's culture minister.

The documents said investigators contacted students who "showed dissatisfaction" with Chou's teaching and accused him of "double standards" by giving extra credit to students involved in political activities.

In the report, Hao wrote that Chou "is an academic and as such he should take a neutral stance towards political issues".

It recommended disciplinary action.

The documents also include a transcript of a disciplinary hearing, at which Chou was asked about giving extra credits to students attending activities mostly organised by the New Macau Association.

"Do you agree these activities all have a strong political stance?" asked one member of the committee. "I've never thought about this," Chou responded.

Chou said students had the freedom not to participate, though the committee noted that the extra credits constituted 20 per cent of overall grades.

According to a letter dated June 3, the committee concluded that Chou had violated several internal regulations.

Professor Kelvin Yuen Ka-veng of the science and technology faculty was the only committee member who spoke to the Post. He said that Chou's punishments had nothing to do with his activities outside the university but "what he has done in class".

Asked whether a professor can take a political stance, Yuen said: "Sure … but inside the classroom you have to be neutral, more balanced."

Chou questioned why he had been punished so heavily.

"My punishment was heavier than that for other professors who were found to have sexually harassed female students," he said.

Chou has complained to Macau's Labour Affairs Bureau, but has yet to receive a response. He says he is considering legal action.

Additional reporting by Chris Luo