HKU council controversy

Suspicions HKU posting was delayed to avoid uproar

Lawmaker believes withdrawn item in Government Gazette was the announcement of Arthur Li Kwok-cheung as chairman

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 October, 2015, 3:10am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 October, 2015, 6:35pm

A withdrawn item in the Government Gazette on Friday is fuelling suspicions that the government tried to avoid further uproar by rushing to announce the appointment of a controversial figure as chairman of the University of Hong Kong's governing body.

Executive Council member Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, who was also appointed to the university council by the chief executive, had been tipped to take over its leadership post next month, when the term of Leong Che-hung is up.

Many HKU students and alumni voiced opposition to Li, criticising him as politically biased and fearing he might damage the university's academic freedom.

On the latest gazette, an item, numbered 8088, was shown as withdrawn. Education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, also convenes an alumni concern group, said he suspected the item involved Li's appointment and that the government struck it to avoid reviving anger and protests among students and alumni.

"I think the government knows very well that Li is really unpopular," said Ip. "Maybe it was hesitating over how it should announce his appointment."

Ip said the government should opt for someone less controversial to be chairman or else conflicts with the council might "only become more serious".

The appointment of Li would come at a time when dissatisfaction continued to fester at local universities, triggered by the HKU council's rejection of pro-democracy scholar Johannes Chan Man-mun for a key managerial post last month.

The episode led to city-wide debate over whether the chief executive should continue to serve as chancellor at universities and thus have the power to appoint council members as well as council chairmen.

Speaking on an RTHK programme yesterday, Leong said he had always acted from his own conscience.

"During the six years I have been serving as the council chairman, I have never felt, at any time, any pressure imposed on me," he said.

Leong said the system whereby the chief executive automatically becomes the chancellor of each publicly funded university dated back to colonial times and had been effective.

He said any attempt to change the system would need thorough discussion in society.

Leong said he did not know if Li would be appointed the next chairman, but believed whoever it might be would act in the university's best interests.