The University of Hong Kong's law faculty has spoken up for the first time in defence of its former dean Johannes Chan Man-mun, whose promotion to a top managerial post was controversially denied by the institution's governing council last week. After the council voted in a secret ballot against appointing Chan to the post on Tuesday, some of its members were quoted as saying Chan was not qualified to be pro-vice-chancellor and had only been made dean of law as he was "a nice guy". But in a strongly worded statement yesterday, a spokesperson for the law faculty called those claims "groundless". "[The faculty] refutes in the strongest possible terms unfair criticisms that were said to have been made," the statement said. "Chan is internationally recognised as a leading scholar in his field. He was appointed dean of law for his vision, his leadership, his integrity, his passion for legal education, and above all his outstanding abilities. We have been fortunate to have him at the helm of the faculty." The statement came days after students and alumni of the university said they were planning to boycott classes and launch a legal challenge against the council's decision. Several well-known overseas public law scholars have dismissed reservations purportedly held by members of the council about Chan's qualifications. Yesterday, a group of about 50 demonstrators, including alumni, gathered at HKU to protest against the council's ruling, saying that by refusing to promote Chan the council had compromised the university's academic independence. Since his candidacy was made public last year, pro-Beijing newspapers have criticised Chan mainly over his relationship with legal scholar and Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting. Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said the faculty's statement could suggest the storm triggered by the council's decision ran deeper than it first appeared. "The strong wording used in the statement reveals the deep grievances and sense of crisis among law professors," he said. Education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said the statement showed the university's governing council should come clean on why they denied Chan the position, or its chairman Dr Leong Che-hung should step down. "They should explain if they spent plenty of time discussing Chan's academic achievements … or simply gave comments that seemed arbitrary," Ip said. Despite the call for his resignation, Leong yesterday said he "cannot see any reason why I should leave the institution I want to serve". "There was absolutely no one trying to influence or press me, and I have not heard such a thing among councillors," he added. Following the council's decision on Tuesday, HKU's student union president Billy Fung Jing-en abandoned confidentiality rules to spill the beans on what was said at the council meeting. Speaking on RTHK's City Forum yesterday, HKU education professor Dr Li Hui said Fung was wrong to have spoken out and was "too young" to decide what was fair. But on the same programme, Fung said he had to reveal what was said by council members because they had given illogical reasons for turning down Chan's appointment.