HKU professors ‘insulted’ by ‘King Arthur’ Li’s claims over slip in academic standards

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 April, 2015, 3:39pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 April, 2015, 1:19pm

Executive Council member Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, who has just joined the University of Hong Kong council, might face legal action after he attributed a drop in the university's ranking to academics "failing to carry out properly their duties".

HKU Academic Staff Association chairman William Cheung Sing-wai said Li's remarks were insulting and he had cited the ranking criteria incorrectly.

Li - nicknamed "King Arthur" for his leadership style when he was education minister - joined the council last month in a move widely seen as paving the way for him to become its chairman.

His criticism of the university's academic staff was made on a radio programme shortly after his appointment, although he did not name anyone.

"Li's statement on the radio was an insult to all academic staff members who have worked tirelessly, and his reply has done nothing but reinforce his insulting message," Cheung said on Monday.

That reply came days after the association wrote to Li, demanding that he substantiate his remarks or retract the statement and apologise.

In his response, Li cited the ranking criteria of Britain's Times Higher Education supplement and wrote that the drop was due to either "some members of the faculty failing to carry out properly their duties in research and teaching" or "the overall calibre of the academic staff having deteriorated and become intellectually incompetent".

Li said he chose to believe the former reason as he believed that "faculty members at the university still possess the intellectual abilities to do their job well".

"If you reject [the former] which you [Cheung] seem to do, then [the latter] is a more relevant contributing cause," he added. "It could only mean that you think staff members are academically not as capable and competent as before."

Cheung said that Li had cited the survey incorrectly as HKU's ranking - assessed on the teaching and learning environment, number and impact of publications and its international reputation - remained at 43rd in the past two years, while the overall score had increased from 65.3 last year to 67.5 this year.

However, according to the same survey, the university's reputation ranking - an opinion survey from invitation-only academics based on "nothing more than subjective judgment" - dropped from 43rd last year to the band of 51st to 60th this year.

Cheung said one of the factors that affected the university's reputation might be, for example, academic freedom.

Cheung said he was considering taking legal action against Li, but would need to consult the association's members before they made their next move.

Cheung said the association had been conducting a survey among its 500 members to ask whether they believed Li's appointment "would be beneficial to the university".