Community & Education Hong Kong Politics & Protest

Polytechnic University head set to retire as ‘Democracy Wall’ free speech row escalates

The president of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has decided he will retire after his term ends in December next year, amid criticism from students against school management.

Timothy Tong will be the fourth head of a Hong Kong university to leave his position in the coming year. Peter Mathieson of the University of Hong Kong will leave for the University of Edinburgh in January next year, Joseph Sung of the Chinese University of Hong Kong will be replaced by Rocky Tuan in June, whilst Tony Chan of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology will leave next August.

Tong was one of the ten university heads who signed a joint statement condemning “recent abuses” of free expression on campus and calling Hong Kong independence unconstitutional.

Timothy Tong

Timothy Tong. Photo: PolyU.

It follows the appearance of pro-independence slogans across university campuses and on student union message boards commonly known as “Democracy Walls.”

PolyU management pledged to remove pro-independence slogans displayed on campus in order to protect its students and prevent them from breaking the law. The PolyU student union did not successfully elect an administration this year, but the temporary administration remains in charge of managing the Democracy Wall.

However, a student monitoring group said school security guards on Tuesday had covered messages unrelated to Hong Kong independence, before removing them.

PolyU

PolyU Security guards seen covering slogans on Democracy Wall. Photo: PolyU Pavilion.

One of them was a satirical slogan asking students to “mourn Timothy Tong,” whilst another one said “no to PolyU president who suppresses freedom of expression.”

“The school has no right to handle slogans on the Democracy Wall. Removing the ‘no to PolyU president’ slogan shows that the school suppresses voices at the university without limits,” the group PolyU Pavilion said.

It also said security guards asked students to show student identity cards when pasting slogans, and they were recorded by the guards. The guards said it was school policy since Tuesday.

PolyU

PolyU Democracy Wall slogans before and after being removed. Photo: PolyU Pavilion.

Tong has been the president of the school since 2009. He said it was a challenge and an honour to serve the university, and the progress and impact it has made over recent years was admirable.

“The new level of academic and research vigour has resulted in enhanced recognition and reputation, and more importantly, our new model of education has sent forth graduates who are not only successful professionals, but also socially responsible citizens,” he wrote in a letter to alumni.

“We all can take pride in what PolyU has achieved in the past nine years or so. PolyU is well-positioned for a demanding and exciting future!”

The university’s governing council will soon launch a global recruitment drive.

Polytechnic University head set to retire as 'Democracy Wall' free speech row escalates