Change Now or Never: Joint Appeal to the Chancellor, the Court and the Council for Amendments to the Statutes of the University of Hong Kong

 

It has been most horrendous that former Chancellor Leung Chun-ying perversely appointed Arthur Li as the Chairman of the University of Hong Kong Council against the public’s will; that the current Chancellor Carrie Lam now continues her wrongdoing and reappoints Arthur Li is not only a grave misdeed but also an utter dismay for all members in HKU.

Only with a reformed system can the institutional autonomy of the University be upheld.

The excessive power of Chancellor is undoubtedly a great threat to our institutional autonomy, particularly the authority to appoint 7 members in the HKU Council, who are not students or employees of HKU. From former Governors of Hong Kong to the Chief Executives after the handover of sovereignty, it has been reiterated that the Chancellor of HKU has always been just a ceremonial role. Both British-Hong Kong government and Hong Kong SAR government mentioned several times that the Chancellor in all tertiary institutions is just a titular head with only ceremonial duties. Currently, amidst the 24 Council members, the Chancellor has the power to appoint 7 members who are not students or employees of HKU, including the Council Chairman. Former Chancellor Leung Chun-ying willfully abused such power which in result led to a more severe situation of cronyism. Indeed, of many top universities around the world, such as the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, and the University College London, there are also external members in the composition of their highest governance structures. Yet, such selection and appointment of external members are all decided by the University. The practice of granting the sole power to Chancellor to appoint external members as Council members is hardly convincing, as it has never been adopted by any other international institutions. Worse still, there is no authorisation from HKU members. We solemnly remonstrate against the unreasonable decision made by Carrie Lam, the current Chancellor.

The Working Party looked into the recommendations in a report submitted to the Council by a Review Panel on University Governance in 2016 recommended that the Chancellorship shall be honorary and the HKU Council shall be authorised for the appointment of the 7 members who are neither students nor employees of the University, including the Council Chairman. However, the Working Party was excused that ‘amending legislation… is time-consuming and uncertain in result’, thus an incompetent Advisory Committee on Council Chairmanship was introduced. Yet, the reappointment of Arthur Li revealed the lack of transparency of both the Committee and the appointment process of the Council Chairman as a whole. In fact, delegating the authority of appointing external members of HKU Council does not require any legislative amendment while the Working Party misinterpreted it. The amendment of the Statutes of the University of Hong Kong could be raised to the Chancellor through HKU Court once the HKU Council proposed.

As the threat is hanging over us, we should stand up for refining the University of Hong Kong Ordinance and its statutes. In addition, it is pressing to safeguard the institutional autonomy, so that the University could be brought towards the genuine co-governance by students and staff.
We cordially invite all students, alumni, teachers and staff members of, and organisations within the University to join this petition to the Chancellor, the Court and the Council:

That the Chancellorship restores its time-honoured status as a titular office;
That the procedure to appoint Council members not being students or employees of the University in Statue XVIII of the University of Hong Kong be reviewed and amended; that the appointment of the Council Chairman be vested in the Council as recommended by the Review Panel on University Governance; and that it be ensured all stakeholders can participate in the appointment process;
Against the Chancellor’s perverse reappointing Arthur Li as the Council Chairman.

Initiators:
The Hong Kong University Students’ Union
Academic Staff Association of The University of Hong Kong
HKU Alumni Concern Group

Co-signatories:
Hong Kong University Employees Union
Architectural Society, HKUSU
Architectural Conservation Association, AS, HKUSU
Arts Association, HKUSU
French Society, AA, HKUSU
German Association, AA, HKUSU
Korean Society, AA, HKUSU
Society of Comparative Literature, AA, HKUSU
Business and Economics Association, HKUSU
Dental Society, HKUSU
Education Society, HKUSU
Engineering Society, HKUSU
Law Association, HKUSU
Medical Society, HKUSU
Science Society, HKUSU
Social Sciences Society, HKUSU
Geographical, Geological and Archaeological Society, SSS, HKUSU
Hornell Hall Students’ Association, HKUSU
Lady Ho Tung Hall Students’ Association, HKUSU
Lee Chi Hung Hall Students’ Association, HKUSU
Lee Hysan Hall Students’ Association, HKUSU
Lee Shau Kee Hall Students’ Association, HKUSU
Morrison Hall Students’ Association, HKUSU
R. C. Lee Hall Students’ Association, HKUSU
Ricci Hall Students’ Association, HKUSU
Simon K. Y. Lee Hall Students’ Association, HKUSU
St. John’s College Students’ Association, HKUSU
Starr Hall Students’ Association, HKUSU
Suen Chi Sun Hall Students’ Association, HKUSU
Swire Hall Students’ Association, HKUSU
University Hall Students’ Association, HKUSU
Wei Lun Hall Students’ Association, HKUSU

1st January 2019

Appendix
On 2nd November 1994, Lam Woon-kwong, the then Secretary for Education and Manpower the Legislative Council articulated that “The Governor will remain the titular head of the institution by assuming the new Chancellor” during the Legislative Council’s examination on the City Polytechnic of Hong Kong (Amendment) Bill 1994, the Hong Kong Baptist College (Amendment) Bill 1994, and the Hong Kong Polytechnic (Amendment) Bill 1994. [1]

On 16th June 1999, the Chief Executive-in-Council approved the acquisition of university title and status of Lingnan College. In the respective press release, it is mentioned that the Chief Executive would continue to be the Chancellor as “titular head”, and that “The Chief Executive earlier considered relinquishing his role as titular head of all tertiary institutions in order to relieve himself of the heavy ceremonial duties. After careful reconsideration of various views, he has decided to continue his chancellorship in all tertiary institutions so as to maintain the traditional links with these institutions and to show support for the tertiary education sector.”[2]

On 14th May 2007, the Legislative Council convened a meeting of Panel on Education. In the document provided by the Education and Manpower Bureau (which Arthur Li was the Secretary for Education and Manpower Bureau at that time), it was stated that, “On the role of the CE as Chancellor of our tertiary institutions, traditionally, the CE (and the former Governors) is the titular head of our tertiary institutions, the purpose of which is to maintain the linkages between the Administration and the institutions and to demonstrate the Government’s support for the higher education sector. The main duties of the Chancellor are to confer degrees and other honorary awards as recommended by the institutions. Such powers are specified under the governing ordinances of the institutions.” [3]

[1] Official Record of Proceedings of the Hong Kong Legislative Council (2nd November 1994),
http://www.legco.gov.hk/yr94-95/english/lc_sitg/hansard/h941102.pdf

[2] HKSAR Government Press Release (16 June 1999),
https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/199906/16/0616213.htm

[3] Working Paper of Legislative Council Panel on Education (14th May 2007),
https://www.legco.gov.hk/yr06-07/english/panels/ed/papers/ed0514cb2-1781-4-e.pdf