University of Hong Kong Council Chairman Arthur Li Kwok-cheung has refused to allow two liberal university governing council members to sit in on an upcoming dialogue with students. Li also rejected the student boycott committee’s demand to hold the talks on campus. Meanwhile, HKU Vice-Chancellor Peter Mathieson denied “taking sides” and says that the protests last week reminded him of the Hillsborough disaster of 1989. The human crush incident at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England caused the deaths of 96 people and injured 766 others.
The committee began a week-long class boycott last week and protested on Tuesday night demanding the governing Council respond to calls for reform. Mathieson then promised to arrange a dialogue between the students and Li within ten days. It has now been scheduled for February 3, Ming Pao reported.
The fourth boycott committee meeting was held on Sunday and lasted for over seven hours. During the meeting, committee member Yvonne Leung Lai-kwok said that Li has rejected two out of the three conditions for the dialogue laid down by the students.
Li refused to allow the talks to take place on school grounds or to allow HKU Council members Faculty of Law principal lecturer Eric Cheung Tat-ming and Head of Humanities Timothy O’Leary to sit in on the meeting. He has yet to decide whether to agree to a third demand, to allow Campus TV and student publication Undergrad to record the meeting and stream it live.
The committee also said it has decided to slow down the boycott action for the time being, as they believe the protests have reached the next stage. It denied that the decision was to do with the dwindling number of participants at the boycott.
‘Risk of death or serious injury’
Civic Party member and HKU alumni Audrey Eu has made public letters of correspondence between herself and HKU Vice-Chancellor Peter Mathieson. Eu first wrote to Mathieson following a press conference on Thursday, during which Li made a series of statements accusing the Civic Party of manipulating the students – statements that Eu called “false and grossly defamatory”.
In his reply on Saturday, Mathieson emphasised that his primary concern was safety. “I have been consistent in my attitude to the sanctity of preserving people’s safety: that dominated my attitude to the Occupy protests and it was that which took me to the site of the protests with Joseph Sung on 2nd October 2014,” Mathieson said.
“When I was trapped in the middle of a large noisy crowd on Tuesday evening, having great difficulty staying on my feet, I thought of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 when 96 football fans died. I genuinely thought there was a risk of death or serious injury.”
Mathieson also denied having taken sides, and added, “The fact that the protest was unnecessary, and the allegations of who did or did not orchestrate the events, are sideshows: the main issue is whether that protest achieved anything to advance the aims of the students. In my opinion it did not. Instead it further damaged the reputation of the University that you and I both support.”