The chairman of the governing Council of the University of Hong Kong has said he will stand up for academics, if there were incidents that hinder the academic freedom of the university.
Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, who has been known for his hardline approach in dealing with scholars, was interviewed by Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing in an online television programme. He was asked how he would defend institutional autonomy and academic freedom.
“You said academic freedom was under attack – give me an example. I have met with all ten deans of faculties after I took office,” he said, adding that none of them raised an issue. “I told them, if you feel you were pressured, you should speak out, I will stand up for you to handle it.”
Lau then asked Li who should people go to if it was he himself who damaged academic freedom, and Li joked that they should go to Lau for help.
Li said when he was the vice-chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, he handled an incident related to Andrew Lo – senior special assistant for then Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa – in the correct way, and that he defended the academic freedom of the school.
Andrew Lo contacted Li in 1999 to discuss the public opinion poll programme of the university; Lo was criticised for apparently putting pressure on universities to adjust poll results measuring the popularity of the then-Chief Executive. Li said then that no one could pressure the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Li also said that he has met with student representatives at HKU – as he did with students at CUHK – to listen to their ideas and views on Hong Kong’s future.
“We need to communicate, but not by chanting slogans, lying on the ground, acting like savages… to block [Council members] from leaving,” he said.
Li said he has been working to make things happen – for instance the Council has established a committee to review its own structure, and the system whereby the Chief Executive is also automatically the chancellor of the university.
He also restated his position that he did not support appointing liberal law scholar Johannes Chan Man-mun as the school’s pro-vice chancellor, as Chan did not have a doctoral degree and the appointment may make those who do have one “feel unconvinced”.
Li said that the Council meeting scheduled next Tuesday will be held at the Knowles Building at the university for the first time in months, after several meetings were held outside the campus as a result of security issues.