HKU council controversy

CY Leung met HKU vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson in weeks leading up to controversial Johannes Chan snub

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 October, 2015, 2:28am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 October, 2015, 11:51am

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying met the head of the University of Hong Kong in the weeks leading up to the controversial rejection of a liberal academic's promotion to a senior manager's job, the Post has learned.

The revelation has raised fresh concerns about political interference in the administration of HKU, but Leung's office would only say: "The chief executive meets with people of all backgrounds from time to time to exchange ideas."

A source close to the university said Leung had sought meetings with HKU vice-chancellor Professor Peter Mathieson in August and September to discuss the university's operation.

READ MORE: ‘What did they talk about?’ Lawmaker demands answers over Hong Kong leader CY Leung’s meeting with HKU head

"They met at least once in the weeks before the university council's meeting on September 29," said the source, referring to the date when HKU's governing council voted against appointing former law faculty dean Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun as a pro-vice-chancellor.

Critics have linked Chan's rejection to his friendship with Occupy Central organiser Benny Tai Yiu-ting. The decision, which came after months of delay and controversy, was condemned by students and alumni, who accused pro-government council members of politicising an academic matter and threatened to challenge it in court.

It remains unclear whether Leung, who is the university's chancellor by law, and Mathieson discussed the controversy.

Mathieson refused to comment on the meeting, but an HKU spokesman said: "He stressed that in the course of representing the university's best interests, he meets with people from all walks of life."

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said such a meeting raised the possibility Leung had tried to exert influence on Mathieson on matters such as Chan's appointment. It is understood Mathieson voted in favour of promoting Chan.

Leonie Ki Man-fung, a member of the council, said she had not heard about meetings between Leung and Mathieson.

"I don't think there is a problem if they communicate," she said. "Such dialogue shouldn't be seen as the government interfering with the university."

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, an HKU alumnus, said Leung could use the pretext of expressing concern about development to interfere in the universities' operations.

"It's imperative university ordinances should be amended to remove the chief executive as universities' chancellor," To said.

The city's chief executive is traditionally chancellor of all eight publicly funded universities. Calls for the system to be changed emerged after government-appointed members of the HKU council backed deferring Chan's appointment since the middle of the year.

Ip, also convenor of the HKU Alumni Concern Group, pointed out former governors, and later chief executives, served as ceremonial heads of the universities.

"It would be a huge workload to have separate meetings with a university chief irregularly, let alone on a regular basis," Ip said.

"It was strange for Leung to meet with Mathieson at such a sensitive time. I have reasonable grounds to believe Leung attempted to exert influence … on matters such as Johannes Chan's appointment."