Liberal law scholar Johannes Chan Man-mun has said that he felt disappointment and surprise as people he knew well for decades turned their backs on him, rejecting his appointment as the pro-vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong.

Chan, a former dean of the Faculty of Law, said on Commercial Radio on Friday that he was already preparing for the job after he was nominated by a selection committee, since approval by the governing Council had always been a formality in the past. Instead, Chan was rejected for the job. He said he was surprised by the controversy over his appointment.

Recordings of Council meetings were then leaked several times after the rejection, revealing that some of the objections included his lack of a doctoral degree and that he did not show sympathy to a professor when he fell at a Council meeting stormed by students.

Johannes Chan.
Johannes Chan. File Photo: Stand News.

“I was disappointed by some people… after the leaks, I wonder why some people would say things like that,” he said. “I knew some people inside for decades, some did not insist on basic values and turned their backs quickly, I was more disappointed by that, I did not know those people were like that.”

He said he had tried to avoid contacting Council members before a decision was made on his appointment so that the Council could maintain a fair process, but he did not deliberately avoid those who were involved in the controversy after the rejection.

“We have differences in viewpoints over issues, I can understand that,” he said.

Chan said, for example, that he bumped into former Council chairman Edward Leong Che-hung one day and they talked about the weather.

Benny Tai.
Benny Tai. Photo: HKFP.

Chan was the supervisor of Occupy Central protest co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting. Chan was criticised in more than 300 articles in pro-Beijing newspapers for the connection and his liberal stance during the nine months between the nomination and the rejection. Chan said he had forgotten most of the unreasonable “rubbish” articles he read.

He said he did not particularly want the position, but chose to persevere because of larger issues.

“The incident may represent the persistence of academic freedom and some basic values… during the course, some people with relatively less academic experience – who have yet to get tenure status – said they were relying on me to withstand the pressure,” he said.

“I feel I am representing some values, and I can carry on by thinking like that,” he added.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.