The appointment of pro-democracy law scholar Johannes Chan Man-mun as pro-vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has been rejected.

In a meeting of the Council of the University of Hong Kong, Johannes Chan Man-mun, a former Dean of the university’s Faculty of Law, received 12 votes against his appointment and just eight votes supporting him. The details of the vote are confidential.

Johannes Chan
File Photo:Johannes Chan. Photo: HKFP.

Chairman of the Council Edward Leong Che-hung said that “the council has rationally debated the recommendation of the search committee, and our discussion today is based on the long-term and the best interest for the university, that we did not accept the recommendation,” he added, “we are confident that the vice-chancellor will restart a new selection committee for pro-vice-chancellor.”

“We support academic freedom and institutional autonomy,” he added.

Vice-chancellor of HKU Peter Mathieson
Vice-chancellor of HKU Peter Mathieson. Photo: HKU.

A new search
Vice-chancellor of HKU Peter Mathieson said: “I am very keen to have my senior team in place as soon as possible, I will make every effort to do that with a new search.”

“I am disappointed that I still don’t have my senior team in place yet, but in terms of engaging another search I will do that as quickly as I can. I am not going to put a time limit on it because these things take a long period of time.”

“I am not concerned that people won’t want to come and work at [The] University of Hong Kong… we’ve had a lot of very high-caliber people wanting to come and work here, I think that will continue. The university has a great reputation, as does Hong Kong as a place to study and to work… So I am confident that we’ll be able to get good candidates.”

It will take at least six months to restart the process to recommend a new candidate for the pro-vice-chancellor role. It will take another six months for the appointed pro-vice-chancellor to assume the position.

Johannes Chan told i-cable news on Tuesday that “at HKU, we have been working transparently… If the decision of the Council is not in-line with public expectations, an explanation is necessary.”

“It has been delayed for some time, and has affected the operations of the university. No matter what the result is, I think it will be a good thing,” he added.

Political influence

Speaking on RTHK on Tuesday, Ip Kin-yuen, lawmaker and HKU Alumni Concern Group member, said: “It would be a huge crisis if the council rejected Johannes Chan’s appointment without any convincing reason… Will judicial review be a possibility? We will consider it… Our preliminary view is that the person involved [Johannes Chan] could file that.”

Occupy Central co-founder, Benny Tai, who worked under Chan, said during an RTHK programme on Monday that the debacle proved that “a certain political force does not want Chan to be the pro-vice-chancellor.” He said that “the impact [of the incident] is not just upon Chan and the procedures of HKU, but also on the core values of HKU.”

HKU main building
University of Hong Kong main building. Photo: HKU

Timeline of the incident

According to i-cable news, Council member Arthur Li Kwok-cheung confirmed that the selection committee for appointing the pro-vice-chancellor unanimously recommended Johannes Chan in December 2014. After a donation scandal involving Chan and Benny Tai was investigated in May, the recommendation still stood.

In June, the Council decided that the appointment of the pro-vice-chancellor would have to wait until the new provost had been put in place – a decision that sparked controversy.

In July, around 50 students charged into a Council meeting, following news that the governing body had decided to uphold a decision to delay the appointment of Chan. Two council members were hospitalised in the ensuing confusion.

In August, the Council decided to postpone the decision once again after a regular meeting.

In early September, alumni from the University of Hong Kong voted overwhelmingly in favour of confirming the recommendation of  Johannes Chan to the pro-vice chancellorship, with 7,821 out of 9,298 votes.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.