Hong Kong Baptist University Vice-Chancellor Roland Chin says that two students involved in a spat over a controversial Mandarin language requirement have been temporarily suspended.
Undergraduate students at the school are required to reach “foundation Putonghua proficiency” in order to graduate, according to a notice from the Language Centre. Students must either enrol on a Mandarin course, or prove their language proficiency – such as by passing an exemption test.
Last week, the Baptist University Student’s Union (BUSU) held an eight-hour protest at the centre, which runs the newly-introduced test.
The first round of tests were held between October and November last year. The protest came after the results were released last Monday, revealing that 70 per cent of those who sat the test had failed. The students concerned must sign up for a three-credit course offered by the Language Centre in order to graduate.
Students demanded talks with the administration, calling for the marking guidelines to be made public.
However, the demands were overshadowed by a video clip showing Student Union President Lau Tsz-kei uttering profanities while speaking with staff members.
At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Chin said that the students made the teachers feel “insulted” and “threatened.”
The suspensions came after a preliminary investigation found that the students’ behaviour violated the school code of conduct, according to Chin. Other students present at the scene are not being handed the same punishment because there was no serious violation on their part, he said.
Chin added that the punishment was unrelated to the Mandarin controversy, was not political, and was only related to the actions of the students: “If there’s any issue – and that issue is so important you can insult someone – that’s wrong.”
“My stance has always been to give students and professors the greatest freedom and space for expressing themselves and discuss problems, but it has to be peaceful and rational. This is my belief and principle, and it is also my promise to the university.”
Chin said that he had confidence in students and teachers. “However, in this space of freedom, some students engaged in vulgar actions that were unacceptable, and I feel very saddened.”
Chin thanked the school’s alumni as well as different sectors in Hong Kong for the concern they showed over the incident, but urged everyone to give the university time and space to handle the matter on their own.
The students will be suspended, effectively immediately, for a couple of weeks until the disciplinary procedure is complete, according to Chin. The students will not be able to attend classes or exams, but they will not be banned from visiting the school campus.
The name of the two students were not revealed owing to privacy reasons. However, Chinese medicine student Andrew Chan Lok-hang — who cut short his internship in China after receiving threats — and BUSU chair Lau Tsz-kei confirmed that they were suspended.
At a press conference announcing their suspensions, Chan said that his biggest regret was enrolling at Hong Kong Baptist University. He said Chin’s biggest concern was not students’ personal safety but how to punish the students. “I feel very disappointed.”
Lau said that Chin did not express sadness over “institutional violence,” or the torment students underwent over the graduation requirements, or the fact that a student had faced threats. Instead, he said Chin only felt sad over “a slip of tongue” and “so-called violent behaviour” while ignoring the reasons behind the action: “Is this the conduct that a normal principal should have? I don’t think so.”
Chinese and English are the official languages in Hong Kong. Cantonese is commonly spoken in Hong Kong, as opposed to Mandarin in mainland China and Taiwan.