Arthur Li, the controversial chair of the University of Hong Kong (HKU)’s governing council, has had his role extended on Friday by the government for three more years, effective from January 1 next year.

Li, 73, has often been criticised for his hardline approach. As Secretary for Education and Manpower in 2003, he threatened to “rape” the Hong Kong Institute of Education if it failed to merge with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he was vice-chancellor before joining the government.

Li was appointed the head of HKU’s council by the end of 2015, amidst controversies surrounding his role in the rejection of law scholar Johannes Chan’s appointment to HKU’s pro-vice-chancellor.

Arthur Li at a HKU Council meeting in July. File

In 2016, Li claimed that students were who were protesting on campus against him were like people who “took drugs” and were “poisoned”.

Li later that year claimed in court that Billy Fung, a former student union president, intimidated him during the protest. Fung and Coleman Li, another student union member, were sentenced to 240 and 200 hours of community service respectively last year.

In a statement released by HKU, Li said he was “most happy and honoured to accept the re-appointment.”

He said he looked forward to continue working with the school’s staff, students and alumni to jointly take HKU to its next level of achievements.

Arthur Li being surrounded after a HKU Council meeting.

Zhang Xiang, president of HKU, welcomed the re-appointment.

“The University has been actively pursuing activities in line with its strategic vision, such as launching various capital projects, engagement with the Mainland and other parts of the world, and making endeavours to attract and nurture global scholars through excellence in research, teaching and learning, and knowledge exchange, just to name a few,” Zhang said in a statement.

“Professor Li has provided great leadership in University governance. His continuity as the Council Chairman will be invaluable to the University in realising its vision in the coming years. I also welcome the re-appointments and the new appointment, and thank all these members for agreeing to help the University further its academic and research endeavours.”

Zhang Xiang and Arthur Li. Photo: HKU.

Davin Wong, president of the HKU student union, told HKFP on Friday that he was disappointed by Li’s re-appointment.

Wong said a consultation committee was established this year for the first time ever to choose the council chair, but Professor Rosie Young was the only member of the council on the committee, which had no student members. Wong said they sent written submissions to the committee, but there was no reply.

The committee could directly give its suggestion to the chancellor of HKU – Chief Executive Carrie Lam – and the council had no role in the appointment, Wong said.

“The chancellor and the committee did not listen to opinions from students [against Li],” Wong said.

Wong said Li has made “unacceptable” speeches on multiple occasions, including the time when he claimed students who protested against him were on drugs.

He said the student union would look into taking further actions.

William Cheung, head of HKU’s academic staff association, told HKFP that Li’s re-appointment was a disappointment, but he was not surprised.

“The selection group for council was just part of the procedure to justify the appointment by CE Lam, so the result was expected,” he said.

“Is he a good leader? He has been Council Chair of HKU for 3 years. What has he achieved for HKU in these 3 years? What has he led HKU to? It will be a big joke to say that he is a good leader,” he added.

“With his re-appointment, HKU will have a Party secretary for another 3 years. This is the usual way for universities in China… I expect that the institutional autonomy and academic freedom of HKU will be further suppressed.”

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.