Hong Kong Baptist University biology research assistant professor Roger Wong Hoi-fung has alleged “political interference” in the school’s decision not to renew his contract.
Wong, a democratically elected member of HKBU’s governing council, said Wednesday that his contract was not renewed, possibly because of his anti-establishment stance and decision to run for China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) this month.
“The decision to not renew my contract despite previous promises is a form of political revenge for my participation in the NPC election,” he told the press on Wednesday.
He was accompanied by representatives of three staff unions, from HKBU and the University of Hong Kong, where Wong formerly worked.
Wong said that his department head Xia Yiji promised him in September that his three-year contract would be extended. At the press conference, Wong played an audio recording which he claimed came from his exchange with Xia, who allegedly said “we will support and recommend your extension.”
But Wong was informed this month that his contract would not be renewed despite the promise. He said he heard from a “credible” source that Xia had written to the faculty of science saying that he would not recommend the extension, which the faculty agreed.
The alleged change of decision came after Wong ran for this month’s NPC election, where he lost to pro-Beijing figures such as Tam Yiu-chung and Bernard Chan. Wong said the timeline of events led him to suspect that the decision was linked to his political involvement.
The teacher added that the University Grants Committee had approved HK$1.26 million of funding for his research on new medicine for diabetes and fatty liver conditions.
Wong said his contract ends in 2018, a year before his funding will expire. Therefore, he said, he would not be able to complete his research and release the results, leading to a waste of taxpayers’ money.
HKBU Faculty and Staff Union spokesperson and journalism teacher To Yiu-ming said: “Even though I personally think that the school considers various factors in renewing contracts… from past experience, the General Research Fund is a very important factor behind these decisions.”
“I believe it is unprecedented in HKBU’s history that a researcher does not have his contract extended despite having been awarded with the General Research Fund,” he said.
“Because the situation is so unusual, HKBU should give an explanation. We are concerned with the arbitrariness of the system.”
When pressed by journalists to explain what the “external forces” were, Wong said he could not disclose more, citing “fear” of repercussions.
“But I know some people didn’t want me to run for the NPC election and they put a lot of pressure on me,” he said.
Wong is known for exposing a research scandal at HKU. Last May, he lodged a complaint against HKU Professor Yang Dan and two PhD students who allegedly published false data in a journal. HKU later said the data were invalid, but Wong’s complaint was dismissed on the basis that Yang was not aware of the issue.
Wong said he and other whistleblowers faced acts of retaliation, including being issued with letters of termination and being barred from laboratories. He resigned from his post in 2015.
The teacher said he plans to leave Hong Kong to look for opportunities, as he believed he “no longer has a place” in Hong Kong’s academia.
An HKBU spokesperson told HKFP that the school “does not consider any political factors, nor does it meet with any external intervention” when deciding whether to renew staff contracts.