Hong Kong Baptist University relents, agrees to review suspensions over Mandarin protest
Officials praise students for apologising to teachers and are expected to announce their decision before the week is over
Beleaguered Baptist University officials softened their stance on Wednesday, saying they would review the suspension of two students over alleged threats to staff during a stand-off on campus.
The announcement, made in an email to students, staff and alumni by president Roland Chin Tai-hong, came a day after student union president Lau Tsz-kei and Chinese medicine student Andrew Chan Lok-hang apologised to teachers in person.
“We are pleased to know that the two suspended students had taken the initiative to apologise in person to language centre colleagues yesterday, expressing their remorseful regret and their willingness to bear the responsibility for what they have done,” the email read.
The decision to review also coincided with an ultimatum the students issued to the school during a protest against the suspensions on Friday that drew 300 people. They said they could escalate action if the suspensions were not lifted.
Lau and Chan were among 30 students who stormed the school’s language centre two weeks ago, demanding the university end a Mandarin requirement needed to graduate.
They were also demanding greater transparency for a test that exempts students from the course after 70 per cent of those who took the exam failed.
Lau was filmed during the stand-off using foul language towards a staff member, but has since apologised.
Tensions between Lau and Chan’s supporters – including students, alumni and even some staff members – and university officials flared last week when Chin announced the pair were suspended before disciplinary proceedings concluded, citing fears that students posed a danger to staff.
Chin said on Wednesday in light of the students’ apology, director of student affairs Gordon Tang Yu-nam would meet the students and the centre’s staff to “reassess whether the conditions for the temporary suspension” still applied.
Chin said Tang had indicated that a decision would be made within the week.
Lau said he and Chan had met Tang, and expected a decision by Thursday morning at the latest.
“I do not feel especially happy as the suspension was unreasonable to begin with,” Lau said.
But Chin noted disciplinary procedures would continue for the pair regardless of the suspension being lifted.
“Nothing hurts a teacher more than seeing students conduct themselves irresponsibly, and nothing delights a teacher more than seeing students learning from mistakes and improving themselves,” Chin added.
Benson Wong Wai-kwok, an assistant professor at the university, believed Chin was under pressure from school stakeholders and the public for both meting out the punishment last week, and for softening his stance this week.
He also said he was disappointed with Chin’s leadership and questioned the link between issuing an apology and not posing a danger to staff.