University of Hong Kong president pledges support for students at inauguration one day after dead body found on campus
HKU president and vice chancellor Zhang Xiang addresses issue at his first inauguration ceremony for freshmen
One day after a professor was arrested over a dead body found in his office, the University of Hong Kong welcomed new students to campus with its newly-minted president promising to help them and staff cope with the tragedy.
Speaking at an inauguration ceremony for first-year students at HKU’s campus in Sai Ying Pun on Wednesday, its president and vice chancellor Zhang Xiang said many students would have heard of the death.
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Without naming the professor, Zhang said: “I’m sure you are as saddened and shocked as I am.”
Zhang, who took office last month, said the details were uncertain but the university would offer support to all students and staff.
“Our thoughts are with those who are affected and the university will be providing the necessary assistance to them at this very difficult time,” Zhang said to the more than 1,300 staff and students attending the ceremony at Lee Shau Kee Lecture Centre’s grand hall.
On Tuesday, it emerged that associate professor Cheung Kie-chung from the department of mechanical engineering had been arrested over the suspected murder of his wife.
Her decomposing body was found in a suitcase placed in a wooden box in his office at Haking Wong Building on the main campus.
Investigators suspected his wife was killed in their home at Wei Lun Hall – one of the university’s residential halls – about a four-minute car ride from Cheung’s office.
Wei Lun Hall is one of the three halls on Sassoon Road. It is a mixed dormitory in a quiet neighbourhood and houses mostly undergraduate students. The hall is particularly popular with medical or nursing students as it is opposite the medical school and its teaching hospital, Queen Mary Hospital.
Cheung was the warden of the hall, where he lived with his family, including his son and daughter.
One member of staff said Cheung rarely spoke of his wife or family. “He just brought his wife along once for a staff union dinner,” said the source. “Other than that I barely remember her.”
The Post learned his daughter, in her mid-20s, had graduated from a British university about two years ago and once worked at HKU.
During the ceremony, Professor Lung Ying-tai, Hung Leung Hau Ling Distinguished Fellow in Humanities in HKU and guest of honour at the ceremony, also alluded to the event.
She also called on students, both male and female, to be feminists.
She said men should realise women’s rights were part of human rights and “something fundamental”.
“If you are a woman, be a feminist, out of self-protection and self-interest,” she added. “You are protected when you are respected.”
Lung said respect had to be earned and women could do this by asserting themselves. Being a feminist did not make a woman lose her femininity but instead, made her stronger, she said.
Lung admitted she had considered omitting a section of her pre-written speech after the tragedy, but instead pressed on, believing it carried a more pertinent message than ever.
Student union president Davin Wong said the school was providing counselling for Wei Lun Hall residents.
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He urged HKU’s more than 4,000 first-year students to “never settle for rules and norms”.
“We should be the ones who mould society instead of the other way around,” he said.
“Our city’s future is at stake, yet I believe it is still in our hands.”
He also paid tribute to students or alumni including Alex Chow Yong-kang, former union vice-president who was jailed for a few months for his involvement in the pro-democracy Occupy protests; Edward Leung Tin-kei, a pro-independence activist currently behind bars over his involvement in the Mong Kok riot; and Billy Fung Jing-en, former student union president sentenced to community service for his role in a siege of a university council meeting.
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“They have accomplished astonishing achievements in their young age, and of course, I am looking forward to more heroes rising in your generation, our generations,” Wong said.
He added that as Cheung was the university student union’s honorary treasurer, responsible for its finances, the union’s councillors would hold an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss next steps.
He said he was not close to Cheung but found him “a kind and helpful person”.
Despite the tragedy, the atmosphere in the hall where the ceremony was held was lighthearted with freshmen responding enthusiastically to speakers on stage.
At Wei Lun Hall, a first-year student who had arrived from India two days earlier to stay at the dormitory said he was not affected by the incident.
“I don’t think [the case] is a reflection of the university’s professors and it won’t affect what I think of campus safety,” he said.
In an email to students and staff on Wednesday afternoon, Dr Steven Cannon, executive vice-president for administration and finance listed contact details for counselling services and said the seventh floor of Haking Wong Building would be closed on Wednesday. The office of the department of mechanical engineering would operate on the fifth floor of the same building in the meantime.
The department’s head, Professor Alfonso Ngan Hing-wan, said he was arranging for other staff members to teach courses assigned to Cheung when the new school year begins next week.