The president and vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has condemned student protesters for surrounding the venue of a governing Council meeting on Tuesday.
In an email sent to staff members, students and alumni on behalf of HKU’s Senior Management Team, Peter Mathieson said that the behaviour of HKU students and other protesters put the safety of Council members, including him, and the university and security staff at serious risk.
Following the controversial appointment of Arthur Li Kwok-cheung as Council chairman in December, students started a week-long class boycott in protest last Wednesday.
After that, they surrounded the venue of the first meeting chaired by Li on Tuesday at the Sassoon Road campus in Pok Fu Lam, to demand the Council respond to their four demands to reform its structure. Council members were unable to leave the campus until four hours after the meeting ended.
“This is not the way to achieve progress: we will always be willing to engage in rational discussion and debate with students but we cannot condone mob rule,” said Mathieson.
Previously, Arthur Li had said that he accepted his new role as chairman as he did not want “mob rule” in Hong Kong.
Mathieson added that the students’ actions were “totally unnecessary.”
“[B]ecause the Council had earlier, as announced in a press statement at the end of the meeting, unanimously agreed to commission a review into the University’s governance which was one of the central demands that the students had made publicly.”
“The scenes last night will have further damaged the University’s reputation and they bring no credit to those involved: HKU students should be capable of better.” Mathieson concluded by writing that “Video images were recorded and will be made available to the police.”
However, HKU Student Union president Billy Fung Jing-en said on Wednesday morning that it was hard to avoid chaotic scenes, as the Council did not respond to their demands.
“The students’ actions were very reasonable, there were more police on the scene than students, and I have seen an officer pointing a pepper spray canister at students,” Fung said, adding that students only wanted to talk to the Council members.
At around midnight on Tuesday, after other Council members had left, Mathieson told protesters that he will arrange a meeting between students, Li and him in ten days. The review panel would be set up in two months’ time, at about the same time a report on university governance by the University Grants Committee is set to be published.