A survey by the Academic Staff Association of the University of Hong Kong found that staff hold generally unfavourable opinions of the outgoing President Peter Mathieson.

Mathieson resigned last February, ahead of his contract’s scheduled completion date in 2019 in order to take up the top post as Principal and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Edinburgh. He will be succeeded by Chinese-American scholar Zhang Xiang next month.

The Association conducted a survey between December 18 and this Tuesday. The form was sent to 2,060 staff and around 609 responded. More than three-quarters of respondents “strongly disagreed” when asked whether Mathieson did well in ten areas during his tenure.

Peter Mathieson HKU
Peter Mathieson. File photo: HKU.

The questions asked whether Mathieson provided strong positive leadership in developing and coordinating strategic planning at HKU; whether he had effectively protected academic freedom, institutional autonomy and freedom of expression on campus; whether he demonstrated that he understood the needs of students and staff; and whether he communicated with them effectively.

His tenure was punctuated with several controversies on – and off – campus, including the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests which many students joined, the rejection of legal scholar Johannes Chan’s appointment as a top official, and the Hong Kong independence debate.

‘Dubious integrity’

In the survey’s comment section, respondents left remarks ranging from “Excellent VC!” to “Leaving hku is the best gift to staff.”

“The VC is highly intelligent, dislikes rhetoric and his major aim is internationalisation, which has been achieved whether you agree with it or not,” one wrote.

“I believe that the VC has had an impossible task because his role has been politicized and I fear that this will only continue. We need to stand together and support each other, rather than jumping to criticize as a default position,” another wrote.

University of Hong Kong
University of Hong Kong. Photo: Stand News.

Some said his short tenure, which began in April 2014, meant it was difficult to judge his performance: “The fact that he got his job in the University of Edinburgh so soon after arriving in Hong Kong is the best proof that he never really wanted to work for HKU!”

A few also criticised the university’s controversial new whistle-blowing policy: “[N]o one would dare to whistle-blow anything.”

“A VC with dubious integrity. He signed a statement condemning discussions of certain expression jointly with other heads of university condemning certain expression in the universities, then denied doing so by using unsubstantiate reasons,” one respondent wrote. “Worst, he allowed police to enter university campus, abandoning institutional autonomy.”

“I am particularly disappointed about the new HR policy, regarding the appointments of new professoriate staff, contract renewal, promotion as well as extension beyond retirement age of current staff should be decided by only three Administrators,” another wrote. “This is harmful to the academic freedom of the university, as well as the administrative independency of the faculty.”

HKFP has contacted HKU for comment.

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.