The president and vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong (HKU), Peter Mathieson, told academic staff in an email that proposed hiring reforms are not “motivated by a desire to silence anyone.”

He added: “We totally refute any suggestion that there is any political motive behind the proposals and we condemn anyone that continues to try to politicise the issue.”

Peter Mathieson.

Under the new system, the president and the provost will have the final say on hiring first-term professors, while the pro-vice-chancellor for academic staffing and resources will have the final say on hiring associate assistant professors. Committees which previously made direct recommendations to the president or provost over hiring decisions will now advise a faculty dean, who will endorse appointments to be submitted to the president or the pro-vice-chancellor.

The letter comes as staff said that the new system may silence the voices of professors. Cheung Sing-wai, the chairman of the Academic Staff Association, told Apple Daily that “it will make people unable to speak up, because no matter if they are new, extending their contract, or on tenure and delaying their retirement, they will have to be appointed by [the president, the provost and the pro-vice chancellor].”

Mathieson said in the email that the revised procedures “will protect junior staff, not penalise them, avoiding cronyism or decisions made for any reasons other than objective assessment of academic potential.”

University of Hong Kong main building. Photo: HKU

He also said that “the policies have been debated at various committees where staff representatives have a full voice,” claiming it was not true that consultations did not take place.

“The proposals were not a desire of any member of the senior management team for ‘autocratic decision-making,’” he said.

Althea Suen, the president of HKU’s student union, told Apple Daily that “the biggest controversy is that the power of the committees are reduced.” However, she also said that there is not enough information, and it is too early to say if it will interfere with academic freedom.

Chantal Yuen

Chantal Yuen is a Hong Kong journalist interested in issues dealing with religion and immigration. She majored in German and minored in Middle Eastern studies at Princeton University.