HKU council controversy

Low turnout as HKU profs pick two mainland Chinese among three new representatives to university governing council

  • Number of votes sharply down compared with 2015 election held during controversies over top appointments
  • All eyes now on whether city leader Lam will reappoint governing council chairman Arthur Li to a second term
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 November, 2018, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 November, 2018, 10:14pm

University of Hong Kong teaching staff mostly stayed away from voting for their three representatives to the university’s governing council.

The number of votes in Wednesday’s election was just over a third of the votes cast in the last race held in 2015, in the midst of controversy over the appointments of the university pro-vice chancellor and council chairman.

From a field of five, those elected were two mainland scholars, finance professor Chen Zhiwu and engineering professor Quentin Yue Zhongqi, who received 180 and 102 votes respectively, and Hong Kong-born associate professor of microbiology Richard Kao Yi-tsun, with 56 votes.

A total of 479 valid votes were cast, down from 1,385 in 2015.

HKU has 3,087 teaching staff, and 1,087 associate and full professors were eligible this time to cast up to three votes each to pick the council representatives, who are expected to speak up on matters of concern to academics.

HKU’s governing council has 24 members, nine of whom are elected by staff, students or other stakeholders. The other 15 comprise those appointed by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor or the council, and ex officio members.

The three men elected on Wednesday will each serve a three-year term. A fourth seat for teaching staff will be up for election in 2021.

The 2015 election saw eight candidates for three seats. The two big winners were social science professor Joseph Chan Cho-wai and head of the school of humanities, Timothy O’Leary.

Chan and O’Leary had organised a silent protest against the council’s refusal to appoint leading legal scholar Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun as HKU’s pro-vice-chancellor.

At the end of 2015, Hong Kong’s then chief executive and HKU chancellor, Leung Chun-ying, appointed Executive Council member Arthur Li Kwok-cheung to be chairman of HKU’s council, despite strong opposition from students and alumni.

When teaching staff do not see that a council position matters that much, they may consider letting go and not vote at all
William Cheung, HKU academic staff association

Li’s term ends on December 31, and all eyes are now on whether the city leader will reappoint him for a second term.

Dr William Cheung Sing-wai, chairman of the HKU academic staff association, said Li’s appointment and other controversies in recent years had disappointed many teaching staff, and that probably explained why some chose not to stand for election or even vote.

“Even if one is elected to the council, can he or she really defend academic freedom?” Cheung asked. “When teaching staff do not see that a council position matters that much, they may consider letting go and not vote at all.”

Cheung added that none of the winning candidates had been vocal on HKU governance issues in the past.

Of the three men elected, Yue told the Post earlier that he would support Li for a second term, while Chen said he had yet to make up his mind.

Kao said after being elected that he would not prejudge Li or any other candidate for chairman.

“So long as the chairman shows us he will retain the best teaching staff with resources and make sure HKU remains competitive against other institutions in the region, in particular in mainland China, I am prepared to work with the chairman,” he said.

HKU staff and students demand answers over unfilled deputy role

Kao, who has been with HKU for 16 years, believed the controversial events of 2015 had quietened down, and that explained the low number of votes this week.

Unlike in 2015 when there were opposing camps seeking to capture council seats, he said, “this time all candidates put up similar platforms”.

“Some colleagues even forgot yesterday was the deadline to cast their ballot and even forgot to vote,” he added.