The Academic Staff Association of the University of Hong Kong has urged HKU President Peter Mathieson to take responsibility for his actions after he signed a controversial anti-Hong Kong independence statement in September.
In a document sent to members of the HKU Senate, Matheison claimed he signed it along with nine other local university heads in order to avoid “isolation.” It read: “We treasure freedom of expression, but we condemn its recent abuses. Freedom of expression is not absolute, and like all freedoms it comes with responsibilities. All universities undersigned agree that we do not support Hong Kong independence, which contravenes the Basic Law.”
He later told a Scottish newspaper that politicisation of higher education in the city is “deeply regrettable,” and that he “at no time said that discussion of Hong Kong independence is an abuse of freedom of expression.”
Responding in an open letter to Mathieson on Wednesday, the association’s chairperson William Cheung said the statement “curtailed” further discussion on independence: “You lectured students in your final inauguration speech to incoming students on 30 August 2017 that ‘the university expects people to take responsibility for their actions’. This is an excellent opportunity for you to show students, staff and the public how you would take responsibilities for your action on this extremely serious matter.”
Cheung – an associate professor in electrical and electronic engineering – urged Mathieson to demonstrate that he is a good role model for students. The message was the fourth in a series of similar emails circulated among staff over the past month and acquired by HKFP.
I wish to refer to the following email dated 4 October 2017 and the reminders dated 19 & 26 October regarding your interview with Scotland on Sunday published on 24 September 2017.
Although you said you “have at no time said that discussion of Hong Kong independence is an abuse of freedom of expression”, your joint action with other heads of universities to publish the public statement is in effect to curtail any further discussion on this matter, an action that is even worse.
You lectured students in your final inauguration speech to incoming students on 30 August 2017 that “the university expects people to take responsibility for their actions”. This is an excellent opportunity for you to show students, staff and the public how you would take responsibilities for your action on this extremely serious matter.
Unfortunately, you have for some unknown reason failed to take up this opportunity up to now. Nonetheless, we wish you can do so soon to show you are a good role model for the students.
We all look forward to seeing prompt action from you.
Cc All staff of HKU
HKU Students Union
Frank O’Donnell, Editorial Director, Scotland on Sunday, Scotsman
Matheison, who is set to take the reins at the University of Edinburgh next year, told the Senate: “The [senior management team] felt that we should try to avoid this isolation outcome and I agreed with that viewpoint. Ultimately the statement was shorter and more ambiguous than I would have wished.” He said that parts of the joint statement referred to hate messages on campus, as opposed to pro-independence advocacy.
The controversy followed the appearance of pro-independence slogans across university campuses and on student union message boards over the summer.