Two Baptist University students suspended over campus protest for ‘threatening’ conduct
Tearful vice chancellor says decision has immediate effect as student union leader and fellow undergraduate call him ‘heartless’
Two students involved in an eight-hour stand-off at a campus protest against a Mandarin language graduation requirement last week have been suspended, Baptist University’s president said on Wednesday.
Declaring in an emotional announcement that they had posed a danger to staff at the institution, Roland Chin Tai-hong identified student union leader Lau Tsz-kei and Andrew Chan Lok-hang, convenor of a Cantonese language support group, for temporary suspension pending the completion of disciplinary proceedings.
The two reacted angrily, calling Chin “heartless”.
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“Initial investigations found the students’ conduct on the day resulted in our teachers feeling threatened and insulted, affecting their work,” university president Roland Chin Tai-hong said.
Their behaviour went against the school’s code of conduct, he added.
Chin said that aside from those involved in the protest, the entire student body, staff and alumni felt insulted by the incident.
On this basis, he explained, director of student affairs Gordon Tang Yu-nam recommended the immediate suspension of the two students in accordance with school guidelines.
Chin said the decision was not without precedent, but he did not provide details.
Tang explained that the suspended students would not be able to attend classes and exams, but were not prevented from entering campus.
It was the latest twist in a story that began when some 30 students confronted staff at the university’s Language Centre to protest against a Mandarin language exam. A video clip of Lau speaking aggressively during the incident went viral on social media and sparked criticism both on and off campus.
Chin said no other students at the protest had so far been found to have seriously violated the code of conduct.
The president added that disciplinary proceedings, now under way, typically took a few weeks to complete.
Tang said while he admired the two students for advocating for their fellow undergraduates, the school could not tolerate staff being intimidated.
Lau and Chan expressed disappointment with the decision and said they would not be shocked if they were expelled and asked to reimburse their school fees.
The student union leader added that he could not see how he endangered staff safety.
“I am shocked with the decision as usually you have to go through investigations [before meting out punishment],” Lau said.
Chan blasted Chin for focusing on punishing them instead of looking after his safety.
Following reports of the protest by mainland media, including the state-run Global Times, Chan received more than 100 threatening messages on Facebook. Some expressed an intention to beat and kill him, he said.
Chan decided to halt his one-year internship at the Guangdong Provincial Hospital of Chinese Medicine in Guangzhou and returned to Hong Kong on Tuesday, after the hospital received more than 100 menacing phone calls.
“This president is heartless,” he said. “I still have over 100 threatening messages and this president is not doing anything about it.”
Chan explained that he sought help from Chin through a district councillor who only received a reply saying the school would look into the matter.
“I did not receive any message showing concern or any attempt from Chin to contact me,” he said. “The first message I get is a suspension.”
But the university president, who was tearful in announcing the news on Wednesday, insisted he cared. Chin cited as proof his asking the school of Chinese medicine to send a teacher to accompany Chan to return to Hong Kong from Guangzhou.
Chan expressed gratitude to the school, but said its efforts differed from those of senior university management.
He compared the suspension to white terror, questioning whether Chin was responding to mainland media reports that called the students pro-independence activists.
But Chin denied that politics had played a role in the decision, adding he did not receive any calls from the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong over the matter.
The university president also said he appreciated Lau’s public apology on Wednesday over his conduct at the protest. But Chin noted there were consequences for the severity of his actions.
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To Yiu-ming, a spokesman for the university’s faculty and staff union, did not think what the students did constituted a danger or ongoing threat, especially in light of Lau’s apology. A danger and ongoing threat, he said, were needed for Tang as director of student affairs to exercise his right to temporarily suspend students.
To added that the punishment was harsher than what other student leaders had faced, citing how those involved in a siege of Lingnan University’s council meeting two years ago were not suspended.
Student unions of several local universities, including those of the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University, issued a joint statement condemning Baptist University for punishing Chan and Lau before the disciplinary proceedings were completed.