HKU council controversy

‘No hard feelings’ towards student leaders over past rows, outgoing University of Hong Kong council member Leonie Ki says

  • But she describes time on campus management body as ‘very traumatic’ and ‘worse than hell’
  • Ki was among members who clashed with students in an appointment saga and siege over governance reforms
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2018, 6:04pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 November, 2018, 10:17pm

A controversial outgoing member of the University of Hong Kong’s governing council has said she holds “no hard feelings” towards student leaders and now meets them regularly, after three years of thorny ties.

But Leonie Ki Man-fung described her second term on the university body as “very traumatic” because it was marked by contentious debate and clashes sparked by an appointment saga.

Ki said she had since managed to thaw icy relations with former student union president Billy Fung Jing-en and his deputy Colman Li Fung-kay.

Victim among hundreds to support former student leaders Billy Fung and Colman Li

“We don’t talk about politics when we meet,” Ki told the Post. “I just remind them that whatever they do, do it legally and don’t get yourself jailed. Even if you are interested in politics, just finish your studies first and get yourself equipped.”

Ki’s second term on the HKU council ended last week, but no official announcement has been made on who her successor will be. She was among high-profile members who spoke up in 2015 against the proposed appointment of liberal scholar Johannes Chan Man-mun as pro-vice-chancellor.

In September that year, the council rejected Chan’s appointment by 12 votes to eight in a secret ballot, with no reason being given for the decision.

HKU legal scholar Johannes Chan ‘lets go’ of controversy and makes peace

Student leaders Fung and Li, who supported Chan’s appointment, targeted their ire at Ki and another council member, Arthur Li Kwok-cheung. Ki hit back and questioned Fung’s integrity after the student union president leaked details of council talks on rejecting Chan.

Ki also separately accused Chan of using “external and internal forces” to get his appointment approved.

The clash with students over the incident had upset Ki greatly, she said, as she had long been involved in youth work, including an exchange programme with mainland Chinese universities.

She sat on the governing boards of two other higher learning institutions for 12 years before serving HKU, her alma mater.

“For my entire life I have been welcomed by youngsters, but the time on the HKU council was worse than hell,” Ki said.

For my entire life I have been welcomed by youngsters, but the time on the HKU council was worse than hell
Leonie Ki, outgoing council member

Ties between university management and students hit a new low when Fung led a number of his peers in blocking council members from leaving a meeting in January 2016, demanding dialogue on governance reforms.

Caught at the centre of the fracas, Ki complained of dizziness and numbness in her legs. Surrounded by students and the media, more than 40 minutes passed before she was carried to an ambulance.

Under pressure from some council members who were angry about the siege, the university handed over surveillance materials on the debacle to police.

Fung was later charged with criminally intimidating Arthur Li – who by then was council chairman – while Colman Li was accused of obstructing the ambulance crew from tending to Ki.

The case however provided an opportunity for both sides to mend fences. Colman Li took the initiative to apologise to Ki, and asked if she could write a mitigation letter to the court to plead for leniency.

A turbulent tenure: HKU vice chancellor reflects on his time at the helm

“I was at first a bit hesitant to accept, because there was no mutual trust – I wasn’t even sure it wasn’t a trap,” Ki recalled.

But she was more sympathetic after hearing Li’s family background in a meeting with the law student, and decided to join hundreds of alumni and professors in writing to the court. Fung later also privately apologised to Ki.

The two student leaders were eventually handed community service sentences instead of jail time.

Ki now meets Fung and Li regularly, as well as their peers. She said she supported both of them as they came from humble backgrounds.

Ki also arranged for former HKU Alumni Association president Irene Man Yee-ching – now based in London – to mentor Fung, who began studying for his master’s degree in Britain in September.

“Fung and Li were sometimes scolded on the streets. I hope talks with them can give them faith that society is ready to embrace them,” Ki said.

Fung and Li were sometimes scolded on the streets. I hope talks with them can give them faith that society is ready to embrace them
Leonie Ki

However, she remains critical of some liberal scholars, without naming anyone. Some academics had become a “burden to the university” after politicising campus affairs, she said.

Weighing in on the most recent council elections, Ki praised the body’s new members for “really caring about education”. They would help keep politics out of HKU, she said.

She also backed Arthur Li to continue serving as chairman of the council, saying he was a hardliner who would stand firm against any criticism from students or liberal staff members.

“Even when someone tries to stir things up, Li bothers to argue back and challenge,” Ki said. “He is also an all-rounder as a member of management, a professor and policymaker, so he can steer council affairs well.”

Li’s first term will end on December 31. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who is by default the chancellor of HKU, will decide if Li can serve another three-year term.

Ki is also technically eligible for a third term, although usual practice dictates that a member should not serve more than two terms, or six years.

In a government gazette notice last Friday, Lam reappointed only three existing members but not a fourth to fill the vacancy left by Ki. According to sources, the university has suggested a candidate and is awaiting Lam’s approval by the end of the month.