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Universities in Hong Kong

Students threaten to escalate action after pro-Beijing professor set to be reappointed at Hong Kong university

Large majority on Lingnan University governing council supported decision to reappoint Professor Leonard Cheng

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 4:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 9:11pm

The governing council at a liberal arts university in Hong Kong has agreed to reappoint a pro-Beijing professor as vice chancellor despite strong opposition from students, the Post understands.

A large majority of Lingnan University’s governing body supported the decision to renew the contract of Professor Leonard Cheng Kwok-hon, a source said on Monday.

The council was still discussing the length of the new contract, the source added. The existing contract had been due to expire in August 2018.

The decision has infuriated students, whose union president Ryan Lee did not rule out storming the next council meeting if their voices were not heard.

Lee said that while he was a student representative to the council, according to the body’s rules, he was not allowed to attend meetings regarding the appointment of personnel and was therefore unable to ensure students’ voices were heard.

After the meeting, council chairman Rex Auyeung Pak-kuen said: “We have some details to discuss, if we have anything to announce, we will issue a press release.”

The whole process contrasted sharply with the procedure at other universities in the city. The University of Hong Kong appointed Professor Zhang Xiang as the next vice chancellor on Friday following a council meeting in which at least one student representative was present.

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And when Chinese University was discussing the appointment of Professor Rocky Tuan Sung-chi as the next president, the student union president was allowed to attend the meeting as an observer – despite not being a member of the council.

Lee said he was informed by the council that Cheng had not been officially reappointed. He added that if the current president’s contract was renewed, the union would prepare posters and banners telling students about the situation and request to meet university governors when classes start in January or at the next council meeting in February.

Students have been at odds with Cheng since his appointment in 2013 because of his close ties with former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, having been an adviser on the election campaign.

In 2015, Cheng warned Dr Horace Chin Wan-kan, a former assistant professor in the university’s Chinese department, for words and behaviour that were deemed beyond the limits of free speech. Chin is known for his localist stance and has since left the university.

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But Cheng appeared to extend an olive branch to students in September when materials calling for Hong Kong independence appeared on several campuses around the city. Cheng said it was acceptable to discuss Hong Kong independence in universities, as long as the material did not advocate it.

By contrast, Chinese University vice chancellor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu gave students an ultimatum to take down such materials, adding that those discussions were not welcome on campus.

When Lingnan University announced it was considering Cheng’s reappointment, the student union called his performance poor in a statement issued in October and criticised the selection committee for the next vice chancellor for a lack of transparency in the consultation process.