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HKU council controversy

Message sent: Liberal academics sweep three vacant seats in University of Hong Kong council election

The internal election, open to teachers, seen as rebuke to institution’s handling of pro-vice-chancellor controversy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 November, 2015, 1:24pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 November, 2015, 2:53pm

Three liberal academics of the University of Hong Kong won seats to the university council in an election widely regarded as a showdown between the pan-democratic and pro-establishment voices in the university’s governing body.

The university internal election was open to teachers and followed continuing controversy over the council’s refusal to appoint pan-democrat-friendly legal scholar Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun as a pro-vice-chancellor in October.

Critics believed Beijing had worked behind the scenes to block Professor Chan’s appointment.

READ MORE: Hong Kong university council backs ex-chair’s bid to seek media gag order

The university last night announced that Professor Joseph Chan Cho-wai of its department of politics and public administration, Professor Timothy O’Leary of its school of humanities, and incumbent Dr Cheung Kie-chung of its department of mechanical engineering were elected. As new full-time teachers’ representatives, their three-year terms were expected to start from December 9.

The trio respectively collected 328, 322, and 183 of the 1,487 valid votes in the election. All had expressed support for Chan’s appointment.

In their election platforms, they emphasised their defence of the university’s autonomy and academic freedom.

Eight candidates vied for the seats. Others included Professor Richard Wong Yue-chim of the school of economics and finance, who is considered a conservative, as well as Professor Alfonso Ngan Hing-wan, who played down politics in his election platform, saying: “I have little interest in politics” and that “politics is about compromise”.

In a statement, O’Leary said the result was “a sure sign that the vast majority of [university] teachers are unhappy with the recent developments and want a strong voice in council to defend our core values”.

“I look forward to working with the newly elected members, and existing members, to restore confidence in the governance [of] our university,” he added.

The election was to fill the seats of three of the four full-time teachers’ representatives in the council, whose terms are set to expire on December 8.

The fourth representative, Professor Lo Chung-mau, is considered a pro-establishment for his stance in the Chan saga. His term expires in April 2018.

One of teacher representative on the council, Professor Yuen Kwok-yung decided to step down after the students’ storming of the council meeting in July. He said that the politics was beyond his faculty and he would be better off returning to his academic work.

Another teacher representative, Professor Kwok Sun of the department of physics, did not seek another term.

The council is the governing body of the university and responsible for managing the university’s financial and human resources as well as its future developments.

There are 24 seats in the council. The university chancellor – who by law is the Hong Kong chief executive, Leung Chun-ying – can directly appoint seven of the members, one of whom is to be the council chairman. The council as a whole can appoint six outsiders to join it.

The council chairman post was left unfilled after Dr Edward Leong Che-hung’s term expired earlier this month. Speculations arose that Leung’s aide Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung would succeed Leong.

The prospect led university alumni and pan-democrats to stage protests against Li’s possible chairmanship.