Two renowned academics have hit back over the University of Hong Kong’s deferrals in promoting a liberal scholar to the position of pro-vice-chancellor. One accused Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying of failing to protect the institution’s independence.

Cheng Kai-ming, former senior advisor to the vice-chancellor, and Albert Chen Hung-yee, a member of the Basic Law Committee, said that they were not persuaded by the HKU Council’s prolonged delays.

The two HKU professors told Ming Pao that the Council should “discuss openly” if they decide to consider political factors in appointing the pro-vice-chancellor. Cheng said: “Would anyone say that the pro-vice-chancellor must ‘love the country’ for the benefit of HKU? No one would dare to!”

Albert Chen (left); Cheng (right).
Albert Chen Hung-yee (left); Cheng Kai-ming (right).

The criticism came after the HKU Council explained in June that it needed to appoint the future deputy vice-chancellor before deciding on the pro-vice-chancellor’s position.

Johannes Chan Man-mun. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Johannes Chan Man-mun. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Johannes Chan Man-mun, a former Dean of the university’s Faculty of Law, was unanimously recommended for the post by the search committee of the 100-year-old institution. Chan considers his pro-democracy political stance a reason for the delayed appointment condemning the decision as “absolutely ridiculous.”

Cheng said that, as the university’s chancellor, Leung Chun-ying should take the lead in upholding academic freedom. He said that Leung’s vetoing of nominations for the university’s honorary degrees – and the appointment of Executive Council member Arthur Li Kwok-cheung to the HKU Council – were “the exact opposite” of respecting the university’s independence.

Arthur Li Kwok-cheung.
Arthur Li Kwok-cheung.

Leung reportedly altered the university’s list of honorary degree holders last February, according to Ming Pao. He denied the claims and said that he was only “executing his duties according to the University of Hong Kong Ordinance.”

Chen said that the Council’s reasons for delaying the pro-vice-chancellor’s appointment were “forced,” and that they should consider the interests of the university and the wider public.

“I don’t see why the position has to be left midair indefinitely,” the law professor said. Chen said on radio that it may take at least a year before the pro-vice-chancellor is appointed.

July 1st HKU alumni
HKU alumni petition over pro-vice-chancellor appointment delay. Photo: Stand News.

Last January, Chen urged pan-democrat lawmakers to consider “public interest” by not vetoing the chief executive’s election reform bill. He said that Beijing would not amend the NPCSC’s decision made on August 31.

During the protests against National Education in 2012, Cheng penned an article in the Hong Kong Economic Journal calling the demonstrations “politicised” and accusing them of causing “worldwide fear.”

University of Hong Kong Alumni Concern Group member and legislative councillor Ip Kin-yuen told Commercial Radio on Thursday that he has collected nearly a thousand signatures in a petition against the repeated deferrals. The petition cited the incident as a threat to the university’s autonomy.

Updated: 22:24

Paul Benedict Lee is an undergraduate law student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Paul has previously contributed to HK Magazine and Radio Television Hong Kong, covering issues ranging from local heritage conservation to arts features. He has also worked as a legal intern at local human rights firm Daly & Associates.