The University of Hong Kong’s Council chair Arthur Li has lambasted the school’s staff representative for “stupidity” after he criticised Li over a delayed report, setting off a fiery exchange.

The quarrel began with an email on Tuesday from William Cheung Sing-wai, chairman of the university’s Academic Staff Association. Cheung criticised Li for failing to fulfil his promise to provide a new strategic direction, which Li promised to produce in six months after he took the position in January 2016. Li later changed the deadline to December.

“It is now approaching the end of January, but there is still no sign of that report,” Cheung wrote. “If your own vocabulary would be used to describe you, you would have to call yourself a liar for not keeping up with your promises.”

Arthur Li.

“Your lack of interest in this important task to the University and the public is clearly shown.”

Cheung asked Li to step down to do a “good favour” for HKU.

Just hours later, Li gave a short reply.

“I must admit that I am unable to instill any intelligence or rationality to those who are biased or blinkered. After all, stupidity has no cure,” he wrote.

‘Stupidity has no cure’

Cheung replied on the following day that he tried to instill intelligence and rationality in Li, but Li was the one who was biased and blinkered.

“I totally agree that ‘stupidity has no cure’. Although medical technology has advanced so much in recent years, no one should wait for new cures. Then should you consider now doing The University of Hong Kong a good favour by stepping down from the post of Council Chairman?”

“As suggested, I am pleased to copy your reply to my preceding email to you and this email to all the recipients to alert them your condition.”

The University of Hong Kong. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Li is known for his hardline governing style.

Before he was appointed chair of the Council, the former government education secretary and Chinese University of Hong Kong head was a member of the Council.

Li was one of the members who rejected the appointment of Johannes Chan Man-mun, a highly respected legal scholar, to the pro-vice-chancellorship. He said the reason was that Chan did not have a doctoral degree – even though doctoral degrees are uncommon among legal professionals. His reasoning lead to speculations that the rejection was political, since Chan was the target of pro-Beijing newspapers.

Li’s appointment as deputy head led to a protest from students, who besieged a Council meeting last year demanding reform of its structure.

He responded by saying that the students who protested his appointment were like people who “took drugs” and were “poisoned.”

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.