Johannes Chan Man-mun, law professor at the University of Hong Kong, has said it should be “imminent” for the university’s governing body to introduce reforms as it has “lost the respect and trust of quite a few teachers and students.”

Chan’s remarks came as the incumbent HKU Council chairman Edward Leong Che-hung is set to finish his term on Friday, with his successor still unknown.

hku council row
Johannes Chan.

In an op-ed for Ming Pao, the former dean of the HKU Faculty of Law lamented the “degradation” of the Council after leaked tapes revealed controversial remarks made by Council members.

Chan said the Council used to give the vice-chancellor full autonomy in running the university while it concerned itself only with long-term strategies.

“The relationship between the Council and the vice-chancellor was basically partners,” and such a relationship helped HKU thrive in the early 2000s, Chan wrote.

However, this has changed over time, with the Council taking up an increasingly active role in daily operations. Some now see the Council as the “highest decision-making body,” he said.

HKU campus with a student union banner saying "retake the future." Photo: HKFP.
HKU campus with a student union banner saying “retake the future.” Photo: HKFP.

Chan called for the Council’s role to be re-defined. He also questioned the legality of a colonial-era tradition to have the chief executive automatically be the chancellors of all universities in the city. It is “against academic freedom which is granted by the Basic Law,” Chan said.

Pro-democracy leaning Chan was nominated to the HKU Council as a pro-vice-chancellor in charge of academic sourcing and staffing. But Council members voted down his appointment in a closed door meeting, sparking protests among students, faculty and alumni.

The next chair of the HKU Council will be appointed by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying but no announcement has been made so far. Executive Council member Arthur Li Kwok-cheung is tipped to be Leung’s favourite candidate. However, the CE may delay Li’s appointment to avoid further controversy due to his low popularity with students and alumni, Now TV reported.

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Vivienne Zeng

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.