Community & Education Hong Kong Politics & Protest

Leaked tape emerges of HKU Council meeting at centre of academic freedom controversy

A leaked recording of University of Hong Kong (HKU) Council member Arthur Li Kwok-chueng, taken from the meeting in which the Council rejected Johannes Chan Man-mun’s appointment to the University’s pro-vice-chancellorship, was broadcast on a Commercial Radio programme on Wednesday morning.

The contents of the recording, the source of which has not been revealed by the station, confirm claims made by HKU Student Union president Billy Fung Jing-en as to the reasons provided by Li for Chan’s rejection, and have come amid speculation that Li could be appointed Council chair by the government as soon as Friday.

Fung said on September 29 that “Arthur Li Kwok-cheung criticised Professor Chan’s lack of a doctoral degree and thus his inability to serve as pro-vice-chancellor… He also claimed that Professor Chan only became dean of the law faculty because he is a ‘nice guy’ and not due to his academic achievements.”

In the leaked recording, Li is heard saying: “[T]he dean… in those days [was] elected by the faculty. So all you have to do is to be a nice guy to everyone, and I think Johannes Chan is a very nice guy.”

Later, Li also criticises Chan’s lack of a doctoral degree by asking, “[C]an someone be in charge of promotion of another person who actually has not gone through the same rigours as that other person and give an honest independent objective view?”

Johannes Chan

Johannes Chan. File Photo: Apple Daily.

Attacks from pro-Beijing newspapers

Li was also recorded commenting on pro-Beijing newspapers’ attacks on Johannes Chan and questioning claims that Council members had fallen under pressure from the China Liaison Office or Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

“I’d like to say very categorically I have not been under any pressure from them,” Li says. “It has been said that the left-wing press […] have been running hundreds of articles against this candidate. And quite honestly, I don’t read Wen Wei Po or Ta Kung Pao, and I think most people in Hong Kong do not read Wen Wei Po or Ta Kung Pao. The more they say about something, the more we feel anti whatever they say.

“However, on the other side, it’s that the political parties are very well organized, very well informed, very well… how would I say… very keen to push this candidate by […] by intimidation, by failing our Council meeting, by having concern groups and all these threatening JRs [judicial reviews] and everything.”

“But I just wonder why is these political parties so keen on this candidate, is it, you know, in the mainland university, they have party secretaries. Do they want a party secretary at HKU? Is he a party secretary, is he put in here as a party secretary?”

“Strongly condemn”

After the tape was released, current HKU Council chair Edward Leong Che-hung said he was “absolutely shocked that someone recorded the discussion at the HKU Council meeting.”

“I do not know true the recording is, but if it is true, I think this act is totally unacceptable and needs to be strongly condemned,” Leong said, calling the leak “an infringement of the speakers’ privacy” that “should be strongly condemned.” The Council, he said, is “seeking legal counsel on solving this issue.”

HKU Council voted on Monday to suspend Billy Fung from future confidential meetings following his disclosure. At a campus press conference convened after the Council’s ruling, Fung likened his colleagues’ decision to being “sentenced without trial.”

Fung also expressed concern that any or all future proceeding could declared “confidential” as a means to exclude dissenting voices from the decision-making process.

Leaked tape emerges of HKU Council meeting at centre of academic freedom controversy