Chairman of the University of Hong Kong’s Student Union and student representative to HKU Council Billy Fung Jing-en released a statement on Tuesday evening condemning the Council’s decision to vote down the appointment of Prof Johannes Chan Man-mun to the university’s pro-vice chancellorship.

In a move that contravened the Council’s confidentiality rules, Fung gave an account of HKU Council members’ reasoning behind their decision.

“Arthur Li Kwok-cheung criticised Prof Chan’s lack of a doctoral degree and thus his inability to serve as pro-vice chancellor…He also claimed that Prof Chan only became dean of the law faculty because he is a ‘nice guy’ and not due to his academic achievements.”

Johannes Chan’s academic credibility was further assailed by Edward Chen Kwan-yiu, who said that “Prof Chan rarely published his writings in any academic journals and was the major authors of few academic works.” Martin Liao Cheung-kong said his decision was based on the fact that Google Scholar results showed Chan’s research had only been searched for “four times in the past five years.”

billy fung
File Photo: Billy Fung.

According to Fung, Council members such as Leonie Ki Man-fung and Margaret Leung Ko May-yee also commented that “any applicant with such high profile should never be hired.” Rosanna Wong Yick-ming also said that “appointing Professor Chan to the position of PVC would only cause a further division of the University.”

Council member Lo Chung-mau also accused Prof Chan of “not showing sympathy when [he] fell” during an earlier Council meeting. Many also questioned Johannes Chan’s integrity.

Possible sanctions

Council chairman Edward Leong Che-hung released a statement in which he “condemn[ed] the deplorable action” by Fung in disclosing the Council’s deliberations.

“His action shows his complete disregard and disrespect for the Council’s requirements and Council members’ pledge of confidentiality,” Leong said. “This is detrimental to free discussions and the exchange of views at Council meetings.”

“The Council will consider possible sanctions,” Leong added.

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

Threats to academic freedom

Responding to the decision, Prof Chan thanked his supporters. “As I have said many times before, the issue of the appointment of the PVC is really not about me. It is about the threats to the autonomy, values and freedoms that have made HKU a world class, vibrant university, an institution that we love and are proud of.

“It is not about winning or losing. It is about challenges to our values and beliefs, our perseverance and our endurance. The appointment process has come to an end, but the decision of the Council shows that we still have a lot of work to do to preserve academic freedom and protect the autonomy of the University.”

In a meeting of the Council of the University of Hong Kong on Tuesday evening, 12 Council members voted against his appointment while eight voted in favour, thus blocking his appointment in spite of the search committee’s recommendation.

Alumni from the University of Hong Kong voted overwhelmingly in favour of confirming the recommendation of  Johannes Chan to the pro-vice chancellorship in a September 1 Emergency General Meeting, with 7,821 out of 9,298 votes backing Chan’s appointment.

Additional reporting: Kris Cheng

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.