HKU told: dig out truth on CY Leung claims

Academics from across city unite to call for investigation into interference

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 February, 2015, 5:16am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 February, 2015, 5:16am

The University of Hong Kong should conduct a formal investigation into reported government interference in its internal affairs, says a group of 20 academics from higher education institutes across the city.

The latest allegation has Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying vetoing a nomination to grant an honorary degree to his 2012 election rival Henry Tang Ying-yen, according to yesterday's Ming Pao newspaper .

A spokesman for the Chief Executive's Office denied Leung - who serves as chancellor of all the city's publicly funded universities - had rejected the honorary degrees committee's choice of Tang. And Tang said he was not aware he had been shortlisted.

The pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po newspaper kicked off what has been described as the "most savage assault yet on the city's academic freedom" when it last month devoted three pages to articles criticising HKU's former dean of law Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun, who has been tipped to be named as the university's next pro-vice-chancellor.

HKU political scientist Professor Joseph Chan Cho-wai said the onslaught has been unprecedented. "The attacks this time were not only targeted at a single person or unit … but at HKU in general," said Chan, one of the initiators of the petition. "Could this be just the curtain-raiser for a series of reprisals post Occupy?"

Chan said the university's honorary degrees committee, which includes members from the HKU council - the university's governing body - was capable of making appropriate nominations and the chancellor was generally seen as a figurehead.

"I have never heard of any chancellors vetoing any nomination," he said. "[Leung] has the responsibility to explain to the school whether he has made such a decision … and if he has sufficient objective justification to do so."

Chan also challenged the tradition that chief executives act as chancellor, which dates back to colonial times and is written into the HKU Ordinance. He said it opened the door for government to meddle in the university's affairs for its own political ends.

"The previous chief executives and governors exercised restraint and remained solely figureheads," he said. "But the city's chief right now is a chief executive who would exhaust every power at his disposal … There's a need to review the whole chancellor system."

Citing an "authoritative source", Chan said the school's selection committee had long since completed its work on selecting the new pro-vice-chancellor. It is understood Johannes Chan was the sole candidate.

His remarks contradicted committee member Professor Terry Au Kit-fong, who earlier told the Post that the group had yet to make any decision.

Chan said the school's management should explain why the recommendation had yet to be discussed by the HKU council, which will make the final decision.

The 20 academics behind the call for an inquiry have also started a petition calling on the government not to violate academic freedom. By last night it had been signed by 1,000 people.