Senior University of Hong Kong (HKU) professors Johannes Chan and Petula Ho have both received two-year contract extensions, instead of the five-year extensions beyond retirement age they applied for.

The university did not give them a substantial reason for the decision, Citizen News reported. Law professor Chan would not comment on his application, but social work professor Ho said she believed it was related to her political stance.

HKU changed its policy in 2016 so that professors, after the normal retirement age of 60, will have to be re-appointed in the form of a non-tenured contract, on the basis of “faculty needs, budget and plan,” as well as merit.

Johannes Chan and Petula Ho. Photo: HKFP/Handout.

An HKU spokesperson told HKFP: “The University has a well-established policy and approved procedures for re-appointment of professors. Re-appointment beyond retirement age is not an automatic right, and is subject to a robust evaluation-approval process.”

“The over-riding considerations behind whether or not a re-appointment should be offered are whether it can be demonstrated that the re-appointment will help the University meet its strategic needs and funding priorities, and achieve high standards of continued and sustainable academic excellence. Re-appointment beyond retirement age involves a new contract, and the terms will be subject to mutual agreement.”

“All applications from professors will be considered at multiple levels: Department, Faculty, the University Selection and Promotion Committee, the President and Vice-Chancellor, and where applicable, and the Human Resources Policy Committee under the University Council. ”

‘Humiliating’ exercise

Ho, 60, is an outspoken pro-democracy scholar. Her research interests include gender and sexuality issues. Ho said she was made a professor two years ago and applied to stay for five more years after retirement age, but did not receive any reply.

Photo: Citizen News.

She asked HKU for relevant documents and found that, in March last year, a Faculty of Social Sciences committee suggested that she should not be re-appointed. The reason was that she may not perform well in the University Grants Committee’s Research Assessment Exercise in 2020, although the results of an internal mock exercise had yet to be released.

Ho complained to HKU Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Paul Tam in April last year and was given the results of the mock exercise, in which she did well. Her faculty then changed its decision and supported her re-appointment. She was granted a two-year extension after retirement in June last year.

Ho said she had taught at HKU for more than 30 years and the two-year extension was “humiliating.”

“I believe it must be because of my political stance,” Ho told Citizen News. “Of course they won’t say it in an obvious way, but I have been told that ‘we did not say you can’t write on Facebook, but you know you have to pay a price.’”

Photo: Citizen News.

Part-time contract

Chan, a former dean of the Faculty of Law and the only honorary senior counsel in Hong Kong, was at the centre of a political storm in 2015 when his nomination to become pro-vice-chancellor of HKU was rejected. He will turn 60 next year.

Chan was the supervisor of Occupy Central protest co-founder Benny Tai. Chan was criticised in more than 300 articles in pro-Beijing newspapers over the connection and his liberal stance during the nine months between his nomination and its rejection.

In June, Chan questioned HKU’s decision not to offer a full-time position to 70-year-old medical professor Lai Ching-lung, who had taught at the university for almost 50 years.

“To professor Lai, he did not mind the little salary under a part-time contract, but he cared about the fact that he cannot keep the title of professor under a part-time contract,” Chan wrote in a column in Ming Pao.

The University of Hong Kong. Photo: Stand News.

He said it was “humiliating and cold” when professors were told their contract extensions depended on whether it was in the university’s best interests.

“HKU is lucky to attract top scholars – but it is unfortunate that HKU seemingly does not treasure talented people and experience, and it has lost many experienced and talented people,” he added. “This is not because of political considerations, but because of bureaucracy. If talented people are treated like professor Lai, it is no wonder they consider leaving.”

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.