Arthur Li Kwok-cheung has been appointed chairman of the governing Council of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) amid strong opposition from University staff, students, alumni, and the public. The appointment, made by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, was announced at 12:30am on Thursday.
The chairman is responsible for hosting and deciding the agendas for Council meetings. Special power include the option of calling a special meeting or taking action at his sole discretion if urgent matters arise in between meetings, according to the Council’s Guide and Code of Practice.
Li, 70, has often been criticised for his hardline approach. As Secretary for Education and Manpower, he threatened to “rape” the Hong Kong Institute of Education in 2003 if it failed to merge with the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
‘Underlines the deficiencies of the current system’
Timothy O’Leary, Head of the School of Humanities and Council member, said there is a “widely held view” that Li is not the right person to address the current crisis of governance at HKU and restore confidence in the university.
“His appointment by the Chief Executive, who also serves as Chancellor of the University, underlines the deficiencies of the current system of university governance across Hong Kong,” he said.
O’Leary said that it is now more important than ever to remain vigilant in safeguarding HKU’s core values—in particular its institutional autonomy and academic freedom.
HKU Student Union president Billy Fung Jing-en said he was “angry and disappointed” by the appointment.
Fung said he would be uncooperative inside the Council but added that he would not call a class boycott as “it cannot directly increase the cost [of governance] onto Arthur Li and Leung Chun-ying.”
‘Would not bring HKU under control’
The HKU Alumni Concern Group, led by education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, issued a joint statement alongside the HKU Academic Staff Association to oppose Li’s appointment.
“This appointment is clearly not in line with HKU’s best interests; it would only make the situation in HKU more unstable and intensified,” the statement read.
Li’s appointment “would not bring HKU under control and intimidate people of HKU,” the statement added: instead, it will make them more united than ever.
The Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union also released a statement expressing anger and regret over Leung’s decision, and demanded he withdraw the appointment.
‘A committed leader’
Despite opposition, Li still has support in the establishment.
Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim said that Li is a committed leader in society, who seeks to maximise the interests of the organisations he serves.
“Professor Li is a veteran academic with extensive experience in teaching as well as the management and development of the university education sector,” Ng said. “I am sure HKU will go from strength to strength with Professor Li at its helm.”
HKU Council spokesperson and lawmaker Abraham Shek Lai-him told Apple Daily that Li is a strong leader and it is “very good” for him to be Council chairman.
Shek added that people may not like Li’s opinions, but they were sincere.
Suspected scheduling mistake
Although an official announcement was not made until after midnight on Thursday, the appointment notice was discovered by a netizen at 9:38pm on Wednesday on the gazette’s website using its search function. Local media thus reported the news hours before an official statement was released.
On the website, the notice was found to have been published on January 1, 2015—a full year before Li takes over as chairman. The suspected scheduling error may have caused the document to appear earlier than expected.
By the time an official statement was released hours later, the gazette website had ben updated with the publication date of the notice corrected to December 31, 2015.
Controversies in Council
Li was appointed as an HKU Council member by Leung in March. Li’s reasons for rejecting liberal law scholar Johannes Chan Man-mun’s appointment to pro-vice-chancellor were revealed in a leaked tape in October, sparking a controversy.
In other leaked tapes, Li spoke of legal action against students charging into the Council meeting room in protest, and challenged members with divergent views on public accountability and freedom of the press to come out as the whistle blower.
In November, HKU alumni voted overwhelmingly against appointing him Council chairman.