HKU council controversy
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Johannes Chan was rejected for the position of pro-vice-chancellor by the HKU council. Photo: Sam Tsang

Police asked to investigate HKU audio leak: outrage over comments made about Johannes Chan

A liberal University of Hong Kong scholar at the centre of an appointment controversy was a “nice guy” but unqualified for a managerial position, according to an audio clip of an HKU council member leaked to the media.

Questions remain over the legality of a secret audio recording revealing discussions of the HKU council about the appointment of Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun to the role of pro-vice-chancellor for Hong Kong University.

The South China Morning Post has contacted Hong Kong Police to clarify what law, if any, has been broken and what line of investigation will be pursued in the matter.

The investigation comes with the revelation that liberal University of Hong Kong scholar at the centre of an appointment controversy was described as a "nice guy" but unqualified for a key managerial post, according to an audio clip of an HKU council member leaked to the media.

The comments by Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, aired during a Commercial Radio programme yesterday, came amid speculation Li would be appointed chairman of the HKU governing body by the government, possibly as early as tomorrow.

The recording was said to have been made during an HKU council meeting on September 29 in which members discussed whether to accept Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun's application for the role of pro-vice-chancellor. Chan's appointment was eventually rejected by the council.

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In the clip, Li said he had "worries" over the issue and that Chan became law dean because he was "a nice guy". He queried Chan's lack of a degree equivalent to a PhD, MD or LLD.

"Now you may say in law [a doctorate degree] is not necessary. Well, if it is not necessary, why is there such a degree in the first place?" Li asked. "Therefore, either he hasn't tried or he is too busy or he doesn't think it is important, but if that's the case he will be devalued maybe by the lecturers, professors who have got PhDs, who have gone through the rigours of academic pursuits."

He then dismissed claims the council had been under political pressure from the central government's liaison office or Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, and suggested political parties were on the other hand "very keen to push" Chan as a candidate.

"I'd like to say very categorically I have not been under any pressure," Li said. "On the other side, the political parties are … very keen to push this candidate by … intimidation … Do they want a party secretary at HKU?"

Li did not cite any political reasons for opposing Chan's appointment, .

In a reply to Ming Pao yesterday, Chan said a person's experience and objectiveness in handling matters had nothing to do with whether the person had a PhD or not. The "party secretary" description was "ridiculous" because he had never discussed the appointment with any parties or been a member of any party.

"Li's comments not only have no factual basis, but also reflect the ignorance of the speaker," Chan said.

READ MORE: Suspicions HKU posting was delayed to avoid uproar

The content of the recording corresponds with what HKU student union president Billy Fung Jin-en revealed after the meeting. Li had then called Fung, who is also a council member, "a liar".

In a reply to Cable TV yesterday, Li said he called Fung a liar because he breached the confidentiality agreement.

HKU council chairman Dr Leong Che-hung, whose term ends on November 6, said he was "utterly shocked" that someone leaked discussion at the council meeting through the recording. The university has asked police to investigate.

He said it was "absolutely unacceptable" and the person who leaked the recording should be condemned. The council would seek legal advice on how to handle the matter.

Council member Leonie Ki Man-fung condemned the leak as "an organised and planned attack" against Li, which she described as "deliberate" and "despicable".


This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: 'A nice guy but not qualified for job'