Hong Kong’s top university is proposing a new rule which would authorise disciplinary proceedings against any student accused of bringing the institution into “disrepute,” according to sources.

The University of Hong Kong (HKU) said “the newly added provision concerning students’ conduct will help safeguard the University’s reputation by plugging the gap in the current statute.”

The University of Hong Kong. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

It gave no more details in a statement to HKFP on Thursday and it was unclear whether the regulation had been approved. The university, like others in Hong Kong, has experienced turbulent relations between staff and students in the wake of the 2019 mass protests and unrest.

A pro-establishment member of HKU’s top governing body, giving an example to reporters, said that describing HKU as a “silly university” would not lead to expulsion, but “telling lies related to the university” might have consequences.

Self-censorship feared

Jason Wong, the only undergraduate student on the university’s governing council, told HKFP he feared self-censorship.

“People might think having a regulation like this is normal, especially in companies or other organisations, but for a free academic institution such as HKU, making comments on school policies is essential, or even the basic rights and obligation of all the members in our university,” Wong said.

He said the amendment was likely to lead to more self-censorship and “white terror” on campus, as students would fear falling foul of the new rule unintentionally.

Workers cover up the Tiananmen slogan on Swire Bridge, HKU on January 29, 2022. Photo: Undergrad, H.K.U.S.U. Instant News via Facebook.

Wong refused to confirm whether the amendment had been approved, citing a non-disclosure agreement covering all members of the council. According to HKU’s statutes, the proposed amendment will not come into force until the Court, HKU’s top legislative body, approves it at a meeting at the end of this year.

‘Silly university’

Stanley Ng, a member of both Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and HKU’s Court, said the new rule was intended to improve existing regulations. Jimmy Ng, a member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and HKU’s Council, said calling HKU a “silly university” would not lead to expulsion, as this “would not bring disrepute to the university.” But if a student told lies about the university, “then this regulation might be employed.”

Stanley Ng. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

Jason Wong said the university had assured him that no student would be brought before the disciplinary committee for an honest comment, but no one could guarantee that the regulation would not be abused after five or 10 years. “Even if I trust the school representative now, I don’t know who will be the next school representative. The danger of this rule is that they refused to provide us with any details,” he added.

The university said the new provision would help in “safeguarding the University’s reputation by plugging the gap in the current statute.”

Students once barred from HKU

Some students were temporarily barred from campus last year after they attended a student council meeting which expressed condolences for a man who killed himself after stabbing a police officer on the handover anniversary. Law professor Eric Cheung Tat-ming quit the governing council of HKU in protest at the bar.

The students quickly apologised for the motion but four student leaders were arrested by national security police and charged with advocating terrorism. They are on bail awaiting trial.

Last December authorities removed a statue on the campus called the “Pillar of Shame,” which commemorated victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre in Beijing.

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Lea Mok

Lea Mok is a multimedia reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously contributed to The Initium, StandNews, MingPao and others. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.