The proposed head of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has said he will defend academic freedom and freedom of speech. He says students will be able to discuss Hong Kong independence.
Rocky Tuan Sung-chi said there was no problem if speech is made peacefully, rationally, legally and with respect to different opinions.
The biotechnology expert was meeting students on Thursday as a part of consultations – with students, staff and alumni – ahead of a formal confirmation of his appointment as vice-chancellor later this month.
When asked what he would do if students were arrested at protests, he said the university would act as a bridge to allow students and alumni who wished to help contact each other. But he noted: “Illegal things have nothing to do with university.”
Tuan, born and raised in Hong Kong, spent most of his academic career in the US. He spoke fluent Cantonese during the meeting.
At the two-hour meeting with dozens of students present, Tuan said he only learnt the university had a general education programme – compulsory for all students – a few days ago. He was questioned as to whether he has enough understanding of Hong Kong and CUHK, but he said he was confident and hoped students would give him a chance.
He was also asked if he would support abolishing the current system whereby the chief executive is the chancellor of universities. Tuan said he was not familiar with the issue, but understood the Legislative Council would need to be involved to change the law. He said he was only a candidate, and he should not give personal opinions.
Tuan also used the US as an example of governments who have state governors as council members. “Some funds come from the government, there is a need for representation,” he said.
Students were also concerned about the high ratio of mainland students among international students. Tuan said there were also many mainland students in the US since there were many applicants, but he agreed the ratio of non-Chinese international students should be increased.
He said it is important and unavoidable for CUHK to achieve better rankings. But he stressed that ranking is not the only important issue, saying that the goal should be teaching students to be good people and making CUHK a comprehensive university.