Students at Lingnan University protested outside a university council meeting this afternoon, against the appointment of two pro-establishment figures to the governing body, as concerns over political influence at publicly-funded universities intensified. About 30 students sat outside the venue of the meeting, demanding answers on council members’ stances on academic freedom and council structure reform, and urging the council to set up a task force to discuss scrapping the city’s leader as the university’s chancellor. A brief chaos broke out when some students tried to stop council members from entering the venue and asked them to face the protesters. The event followed the University of Hong Kong council’s rejection of liberal scholar Johannes Chan to the position of pro-vice-chancellor last month. The HKU saga, which started last year, has triggered citywide concerns over local universities’ academic freedom and institutional autonomy. It has also prompted university students and staff to demand scrapping the existing council structure, which allows the city’s chief executive, in his default role as the chancellor, to influence the governing body and appoint council members. Lingnan student union president Philip Lau Chun-lam said protesters would not storm the council meeting, but wait outside the venue until council members came out to speak to them. “We have repeatedly requested the council set up a task force to study scrapping the system where the chief executive is the university chancellor,” said Lau. “We hope the council members can respond to our demand directly today.” Council chairman Rex Au-Yeung Pak-kuen later came out to meet the students with university president Leonard Cheng Kwok-hon. Au-Yeung said many appointed council members had made important contributions to the university, especially regarding helping graduates gain employment. He said scrapping such system would involve a wide discussion and the council alone could not make a decision on this. But he promised to discuss the students’ demand in the meeting. At present, 18 of the 33 members of Lingnan’s governing council are appointed by the chief executive. The proportion, more than a half, is higher than that of other local universities’ councils, including HKU’s, where only one-third of members are so appointed. Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, a former president of the Law Society, solicitor Maggie Chan Man-ki, and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference representative Michael Ngai Ming-tak were among five people appointed to the Lingnan council on October 9. Students have criticised the appointments as “political rewards” for Ho and Chan’s efforts in opposing the pro-democratic Occupy movement last year. Ho criticised the university’s student union on an RTHK public affairs programme for featuring a band that sang songs with foul language at a campus concert in May. The song expressed anger at the police force, which had been criticised by many for its heavy-handed actions against pro-democratic protesters. Ho said the Public Order Ordinance had been breached. He also set up a group called Protect Central last year as the citywide mass sit-ins began. Chan, a Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong member, helped minibus operators seek a court injunction against Occupy protesters in Mong Kok.