Community & Education Hong Kong Politics & Protest

Second HKU Council representative quits over pro-vice chancellor debacle

A staff representative of HKU Council has resigned following a student protest at a council meeting centred upon delaying the appointment of a new pro-vice chancellor, stating he does not want to be part of a politicised body.

Microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung, resigned from the council on Friday, saying that he “had never received political training” and did not have the capability to continue sitting on the council.

He became the second representative to walk out, following the footsteps of Indian postgraduate student Aloysius Wilfred Raj Arokiaraj, who submitted his resignation on July 3, three days after the decision to delay appointment was made by the council. In his open letter (see below) on his resignation, he said the decision to delay “falls short of our expected standards for a world class university”.

Yuen Kwok-yung

Yuen Kwok-yung. Photo: Stand News.

Elected teacher representative Yuen said in the wake of his decision to quit: “HKU is a microcosm of society. Incidents that happen in society will happen in HKU, and vice versa.

“Over the past few years, Hong Kong’s political climate has been in turmoil, and this turmoil would most definitely be brought into HKU.”

He added that as the highest body of the university, HKU Council would “naturally” be infiltrated by politics.

On Tuesday, some 50 students disrupted the meeting of the governing body of HKU in protest against their decision to uphold the deferral of pro-democracy scholar Johannes Chan Man-mun’s appointment as pro-vice chancellor. The council stated that the reason was to “wait for the appointment of a new deputy vice-chancellor”.

Following Tuesday’s protest, ten faculty deans of HKU issued a joint statement(see below), stating that academic freedom and institutional autonomy are the “absolute bedrock” of higher education in Hong Kong. They called for all sides to respect these principles.

The deans also criticised the actions of the students who charged into the meeting on Tuesday evening, and said they were “deeply dismayed by the disruption of the council meeting”.

HKU deans Audrey Eu

HKU deans of faculties and Audrey Eu Yuet-mee. Photo: HKU/Stand News/Apple Daily.

Yuen said that the students did not initiate the confrontation on Tuesday, but rather various outside political forces had influenced the council’s decision-making process and eventually angered the students.

Civic Party chairperson and HKU alumna Audrey Eu Yuet-mee questioned the deans’ criticism of the student protesters in an open letter (see below). She urged them to support students over the controversy and persuade council members to process Chan’s appointment as soon as possible.

“Many senior staff and alumni of the University are deeply dismayed … precisely because academic freedom and institutional integrity are being threatened by the very controversial decisions of the university council.”

Pro-establishment newspapers have compared the students’ actions to those of the paramilitary “Red Guards” who supported Mao Zedong during China’s Cultural Revolution.

Billy Fung Jing-en. Photo: HKU Undergrad via Facebook.

Billy Fung Jing-en. Photo: HKU Undergrad via Facebook.

On Thursday, HKU Student Union President Billy Fung Jing-en, said on RTHK that the students’ actions were a form of “using force to cease violence”. He said that students had only turned to confrontation after many efforts to protest peacefully, including the use of petitions, sit-ins and public statements.

Fung added that the system “forced” students to take action, and students would not apologise for charging into the meeting.

In a statement issued by the HKU student union on Wednesday (see below), the union described Tuesday actions as a failure. “We indeed failed. We failed to turn the situation round. We failed to restore our university to its rightful place,” the statement said. The union also expressed its “heartfelt grief” towards “the violence in the system and the malfunction of the council”.

香港大學校委會晚上開會,港大學生會約十多名成員,在會議進行數小時後,衝入會議室,高叫口號,抗議校委會遲遲未能確認副校長人選。#香港電台 #港大校委會 #梁智鴻

Posted by 香港電台視像新聞 RTHK VNEWS on Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Full statements by Audrey Eu, HKU deans of faculties, HKU Student Union, Yuen Kwok-yung, and Aloysius Arokiaraj:

Dear Deans,

I write as an alumna of this University.

It is rare for 10 deans of the University of Hong Kong to issue a joint public statement. So it must be important and for the right reason.

You say academic freedom and institutional autonomy are the absolute bedrock of higher education in Hong Kong. You call on all parties including those within the University to respect these principles. By those within the University, you must include the University Council. And you must be aware that many senior staff and alumni of the University are deeply dismayed – to use your term – precisely because academic freedom and institutional integrity are being threatened by the very controversial decisions of the University Council in its last two meetings to depart from its normal practice and due process and to refuse to deliberate on the recommendation of the Search Committee for the post of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic Staffing and Resources) despite the strong urging from the Vice Chancellor. The excuse given for such delay is nonsensical and an affront to common sense. When has the University suspended discussion of the Search Committee in order to wait for the view of one single person who has not even been appointed?

You say you cannot condone uncivil activity. But you are aware of the cause behind such activity. You say this disrupts normal operation of the University. But have you said anything about the above decisions of the University Council which cause far greater damage to the normal operation of the University?

As deans, it is your responsibility to guide and help the students, particularly when they are fighting the fight that you ought to be fighting for. Yet by issuing the public statement, you may be unwittingly applying pressure on the powerless students instead of urging those in power to stand by those principles that you say are important. I urge you to do what you can to help the students, to persuade the Council members not to delay, to return to its usual practice and to restore normal operation to the University.

Yours sincerely,
Audrey Eu LLB 1975

The following joint statement is issued on behalf of ten deans of faculties of the University of Hong Kong:

We, deans of all ten faculties of the University of Hong Kong, believe that academic freedom and institutional autonomy, guaranteed by Basic Law Article 137, are the absolute bedrock of higher education in Hong Kong, as elsewhere. We cannot emphasise more strongly the importance of adhering to these principles in all that the University does, particularly at the highest decision-making level. We also call on all parties both within and outside the University to respect these principles.

We however cannot condone uncivil activity that seeks to disrupt normal operations of the University, under any circumstance.

We are deeply dismayed by the disruption of the Council meeting on July 28. We urge all parties to put the interest of the University first and foremost as they find a consensual way forward as quickly as possible.

Deans of Faculties:
Professor Chris Webster (Architecture)
Professor Derek Burton Collins (Arts)
Professor Eric C. Chang (Business and Economics)
Professor Thomas Frank Flemmig (Dentistry)
Professor Stephen J. Andrews (Education)
Professor Norman C. Tien (Engineering)
Professor Michael Yew Meng Hor (Law)
Professor Gabriel M Leung (Medicine)
Professor Kwok Sun (Science)
Professor John P. Burns (Social Sciences)

To all students of the University of Hong Kong:

We indeed failed. We failed to turn the situation round. We failed to restore our university to its rightful place. The absurd pretext of deferring the appointment ‘until the post of provost is filled’ remains. Violence in the structure stays on our campus. Not only are we frustrated with the current situation, we are also in heartfelt grief and distress.

In face of this Council which has incessantly neglected our demands, students having participated in the siege could do nothing but charge into the Senate room and demanded a direct exchange. Some conceited Council members under the lead of Arthur Li yet refused to converse with students’ view and explain the incident, while Leong Che-hung, the Chairman of the Council, rested all problems to the collective decision made by the Council and sadly made no promise. Our concern to the composition of the Council and the intervention from the regime were further shunned. It shall be the duty of the Council members to be accountable to HKU staff and students. Such system surely turns to be unjust when it is lobbied as a reason in shunning the general public.

Such incident concerning the Vice-President and Pro-Vice-Chancellor has been ridiculously prolonged. Not only did we launch petition and a sit-in protest, we also issued a joint declaration with three other university organisations, demanding the immediate appointment and a revision to the composition of the Council. The Council yet has never responded to our demands. Doors of the Senate room are in total resemblance to barriers to our opinions. Pro-establishment members even abused pretexts of ‘the code of confidentiality’ and ‘collective decision’ in defence, disabling us from making them accountable to the issue. When one questioned the validity of delaying the appointment ‘until the post of provost is filled’, Leong even claimed that the Council decision is final regardless of its validity in our eyes. We can never stand such ill-founded conclusion and a council neglecting the validity of its decision is a clear and undoubted tyranny of the majority.

Representatives of students and academic staff in the Council are the mere minority. They, sadly, are unable to influence any decision in face of the overwhelming majority of pro-establishment members. As the highest decision-making body, the Council should serve the benefits of the university. We are truly aware of the cost of charging the Council while what happened was surely nothing we had hoped for. Peaceful means were under trial and were proved to be impotent. They left us no choice but to charge in hope of restoring order in this Council.

Our fellow students, we once took pride in our university, we are yet now ashamed. The violence in the system and the malfunction of the council surely put us in heartfelt grief. But what is the most shocking is how the university again forfeited its autonomy to the police force and connived its enforcement on campus. On 18 August 2011, to save the reputation of the regime, the university allowed the police force to take control of the university security and exploited students freedom on campus. Such lesson must be born in mind. The connivance of the university to the police force enforcement on campus shall only make us hard not to believe in ingratiating herself to the regime.

We dare not claim our actions to be successful hitherto and we must take responsibility for the inadequacies. It yet never means that our struggle has come to an end. Our goal has never been only the appointment of the Vice-President and Pro-Vice-Chancellor. We demand a reform of the Council and further protection of our institutional autonomy from the University Ordinance.
Actions may not always be effective in face of such aloof authority. But instead of waiting for our own demise, we are determined to rise above such adversity. Only in unity shall we safeguard our own dignity. We hereby humbly call on all students to struggle with us and restore our University of Hong Kong to its rightful place.

The Hong Kong University Students’ Union
29 July 2015

Message from Professor K Y Yuen to the Council and Council Chairman, for the information of academic colleagues
July 31, 2015

Dear Chairman Professor CH Leong and members of HKU Council,

I write to inform you about my resignation as an elected member of the Council because I feel no longer competent to serve my Alma mater.

Hong Kong is my most beloved birth place, and HKU is the holy sanctuary of my intellectual birth place. While I strongly support any further improvement of academic freedom and institutional autonomy at all levels of the University, I am sad to see the recent disruption of the Council which only serves to divert any well-meant discussion of what is best for HKU.

Our University and Hong Kong excel because we are able to convert “differences of opinion, cultures and values” through peaceful and unassuming interactions into “new insight, innovation and strength”. Though there are injustice in the system, we will not succeed to change it by verbal and physical violence. As such actions will only bring out the darkest side of human and open the door for the intrusion by Satan. Nevertheless, those in power also have the primary responsibility to face the dilemma and remove these injustice.

In all circumstances, we should always have a humble heart and uphold “Sapientia et Virtus”.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Kwok-Yung Yuen
Department of Microbiology
HKU

Open letter on my resignation from the council of the University of Hong Kong

As students, we have priorities in life; taking up responsibilities and doing what we are passionate about such as helping fellow students or speaking up for our institution meant those priorities went for a toss. About 3 years ago I came to Hong Kong from India. I have been extremely fortunate and thankful to God for what I have been able to do in the past 2 years in HKU. I had a very strong opinion that speaking inside the council is all that mattered avoiding any media questions in the past; all my fellow council members know my contributions to the Council.

I resigned from the council on 3rd of July 2015 because the resolutions passed in the council “fall short of my expected standards”. The resolutions do not ensure a level playing field. As a University we want to have academic independence – this is a great ideal but unknowingly, two groups are just strangling the University with too much pressure on every single issue. Please leave us alone. We will not be ruffled by any sort of interference, as we students pledge our allegiance to no one except our University, staff and students.

Yes we don’t live in a political vacuum, but we are idealistic, I believe in unconditional love, in being apolitical in public whatever I might favour in private, in speaking out my heart and standing by it. Some people have asked me to follow “the group” and vote in reflection of the group I represent. I believe most of the students irrespective of where they come from believe in the best interest of the University. I don’t know what these particular people think but they can be excused as unaware of the section 5.6 in the code of conduct for a council member. Moreover I want to make it clear to everyone who still has similar questions on this; I joined the student organisation to serve the University and not the other way.

In these trying times, all we know is to hope for the best. In the past, we have seen how resilient the University of Hong Kong has been, this phase just means that we will come back stronger than ever. We have to work hard to get ourselves untangled from the influences for a better present and a brighter future. Whatever said and done, I will work with my colleagues and do things that we are passionate about inside and outside the University; sticking to our core values and principles which can be considered as conservative by some and extremely radical by others. At the end of the day, we are what we are, ordinary helpless students trying to fight for a better University. We know there is scope of improvement and we will strive with valour not just as students now; but even as alumni all throughout our lives for this great institution.

I was extremely fortunate to be very closely affiliated with the HeforShe campaign at HKU and I would like to see a positive change to this difficult situation I am leaving behind. I would like to encourage one of my female postgraduate colleagues to come forward to contest for the council, who work so passionately for the postgraduates, in the coming year. I believe there should be something positive done when there is so much negativity. We are trying everything within our power to work towards gender equality, the first step is empowering our female counterparts and where else if not the council.

This is not a light-hearted decision; it is not easy for me to leave the council and all of its esteemed members from whom I have learnt so much and I am very grateful to them. I respect their views and decisions, but all that aside, those decisions “Fall short of our expected standards for a world class University”.

Aloysius Wilfred Raj Arokiaraj

Second HKU Council representative quits over pro-vice chancellor debacle