HKU council controversy

Former students promise to use "whatever action needed" to stop ex-minister 'King' Arthur Li taking over as chair of HKU Council

Controversial figure has a poor track record in protecting university autonomy, says pan-democrat who is leading concern group

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 October, 2015, 11:07pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 2:38pm

University of Hong Kong alumni warn they will "take whatever action needed" to stop Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung becoming head of its governing body.

The controversial Li, an executive councillor and former education minister, was appointed to the HKU council in March and it is rumoured that he will take over as chairman when Dr Leong Che-hung's term expires on November 6.

The HKU Alumni Concern Group, headed by pan-democrat lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, claims Li has a bad track record for respecting the autonomy of universities.

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A poll released on Sunday by the Professional Teachers Union showed that almost three-quarters of its 670 tertiary sector members opposed Li's appointment.

Nicknamed "King Arthur" for his perceived high-handed manner, Li is no stranger to controversy. More than a decade ago he pressed for a merger between Chinese University and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and later between Chinese University and the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

His critical remarks about student activists during last year's Occupy protests, and against HKU lecturers, also did him no favours in winning friends.

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Ip, a former lecturer at the institute, said yesterday: "The university council chairman should be someone who is fair, impartial, and able to display a determination to protect university autonomy and academic freedom. He must also have a strong sense of belonging to the university and has to be accepted and supported by staff and students.

"We find Professor Li possesses none of these qualities."

A poll of 152 members of the HKU Academic Staff Association showed 87 per cent did not believe it would be good for the university if Li was made chairman.

"We understand that the government may still go ahead with Professor Li's appointment despite our opposition," said Ip. "But we would like to tell the government that if it does so, it will be against the will of the public, the university staff and students."

Ip accused the Leung Chun-ying administration of trying to tighten its grip over the tertiary education sector, citing the recent appointment of pro-government figures to the council of Lingnan University.

READ MORE: Protest at Lingnan University calls for end to chief executive as chancellor of Hong Kong's universities

He also questioned if the appointment of Li would give the Li family too much influence in the university, where his brother, banker David Li Kwok-po, is already pro-chancellor.

Dissatisfaction continues to fester at universities, triggered by HKU council's rejection of pan-democrat-friendly scholar Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun for a key managerial post last month. The episode led to debate over whether the chief executive should continue to serve as chancellor of all universities, a role that gives him the power to appoint council members and chairmen.