Outraged Hong Kong Baptist University students plan Friday march after suspension of pair
Student union accuses university bosses of abuse of procedures after controversy surrounding Mandarin requirement
The controversy surrounding Hong Kong Baptist University’s suspension of two undergraduates before investigations were completed over alleged threats to staff last week has escalated, with a large march organised by students expected on campus on Friday.
Members from other universities are lending their support to pressure university president Roland Chin Tai-hong to retract the suspensions, with students set to participate in the rally and a confederation of staff unions issuing condemnation’s of his decision.
Materials containing vulgarities targeting Chin also appeared on two university campuses on Wednesday, but they were taken down by Thursday evening.
The latest development came as at least five students involved in an eight-hour stand-off with staff at the school’s Language Centre last week were summoned for a disciplinary hearing.
They were part of a group of about 30 students who stormed the centre to demand that a mandatory Mandarin module they must pass to graduate be scrapped. They also seek greater transparency for an exemption test for the course, which was introduced last year. During the incident last week, union president Lau Tsz-kei was filmed using foul language directed towards a centre staff member.
Seventy per cent of those who sat the test failed, leading to questions over whether the test was too difficult or the evaluation too harsh. Students were also unhappy they were forced to take the module to graduate.
Tensions intensified on Wednesday when Chin announced the suspension of union president Lau Tsz-kei and Chinese medicine student Andrew Chan Lok-hang before investigations were completed. Chin explained that the decision was in accordance with school guidelines, arguing the two posed a danger to staff.
The move prompted Baptist University’s student union to announce on Thursday that it would hold a march beginning at the school’s Jockey Club Courtyard on Friday afternoon to protest against what they called management’s abuse of procedures. But the student group said there were currently no plans for class boycotts.
The student unions of Lingnan University and Education University indicated they would take part in the rally, while those of the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University shared details of the event on their Facebook pages.
Teachers, including a university administrator, also weighed in on the matter. The Confederation of Tertiary Institutes Staff Unions, which represents staff unions from six universities including HKU and CUHK, also issued a statement on Thursday. It urged the school to allow the two students to continue studies until investigations were completed. The group said Baptist University was “delivering a verdict before a trial”.
Benson Wong Wai-kwok, an assistant professor and a Baptist University council member, asked: “Can any senior members from the university, if they have some sense of conscience, ask the president whether there was a problem with his … penalty?”
Professor Lo Ping-cheung, associate dean at the university’s faculty of arts, said in a Facebook post that he was saddened by the decision and juxtaposed how universities were vigorous with discipline while the government had a tolerant attitude towards senior officials who broke the law.
Meanwhile, a public petition calling for a reversal of the suspension and led by Clarisse Yeung Suet-ying, a district councillor who has been assisting Chan, was gaining traction among members of the public. More than 1,000 signatures were gathered as of Thursday evening.
Lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun said the school should invite alumni and other members of the public to form an independent investigative panel to look into the incident.
No compromise in ethical code, Hong Kong Baptist University president says, as calls grow to discipline protesting students
But Roger Wong Hoi-fung, a member of Baptist University’s governing council and a member of the teaching staff, believed the video indicated that staff were threatened. He said some workers had even cried when he spoke to them about the incident.
While Wong believed the suspension was based in the school’s disciplinary procedures, he said it should avoid having students stop classes.
Acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said any profanity directed by students towards teachers was unacceptable.
Cheung urged the public not to get emotional and politicise the matter, and to give more time and space for the university to handle the matter.
But an article in the WeChat account of Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily called on Baptist University to severely punish students involved in the stand-off.
Separately, Chan said he received an email from the disciplinary panel on Thursday to attend a hearing in mid-February.
“[The panel] said I had obstructed the school’s teaching or management, my behaviour was indecent and I had posed harm to the safety of members at the university,” he said.
The school’s student union said four other students, including Lau, had informed it about being summoned for a disciplinary hearing.
A Baptist University spokesman said a five-member disciplinary panel would meet involved students individually, review evidence and verify events with staff members who were at the scene.
The spokesman added that the university respected students’ right to express their opinions and urged them to stay peaceful, rational and abide by the law. The university would closely listen to the school community’s opinions, he said.
Fergus Leung Fong-wai, external affairs secretary of the HKU student union, which manages the wall where supporting banners were posted, said the union did not know who had put up the poster containing foul language.
But he noted that the A4 size paper containing the one crude word was taken down a few hours later. Leung said the union’s executive committee did not know who had taken it down.
He also said the committee would not look into who put the posters up as they did not breach the rules of the wall, adding he believed the message was “emotional”. Leung said the committee would not look into who took down that part of the poster either.
Cheryl Chu On-ni, Chinese University’s student union’s external vice-president, said it had taken down the posters on the grounds they did not comply with union rules stipulating a name be attached to them.
A Chinese University spokeswoman said its members must exercise their freedom of speech on campus without intruding on another person’s dignity or rights.
Posters making abusive and personal attacks on others that appeared on the university’s democracy wall ran contrary to the principle of mutual respect, she added.
Education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said he was pained by a student using inappropriate language towards teachers and urged the public to give space to the school to settle the matter.
Additional reporting by Ernest Kao and Danny Mok