The Chinese University was confronted with its "largest political storm" of the past 21 years when an application was made for the permanent display of the Goddess of Democracy on the campus last week, vice chancellor-designate Joseph Sung Jao-yiu said yesterday.
The university's administration committee rejected the application, saying it had to stick to the principle of "political neutrality."
But after the student union expressed outrage, the university backed down and allowed the statue to be displayed on the campus on Friday on the 21st anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen crackdown. The statue is still on the Sha Tin campus.
Sung did not vote as he was out of town, but he was kept up to date with events as they unfolded.
He said the management team was "immature" and "inexperienced" in handling the incident. He pledged to communicate with students on the future of the statue when he takes up the post next month.
After receiving the application from the CUHK student union on May 29, the university's administrative and planning committee, chaired by incumbent vice chancellor Lawrence Lau Juen-yee, held an urgent meeting last Tuesday.
The university issued a statement a day later on its decision not to allow the display.
Sung said the committee had taken into account various considerations. Political neutrality was only one of the reasons, besides security and safety concerns. He stressed that it was not a "one-cut" decision.
The application might have been accepted if it was for June 4 commemoration activities or for short- term display, Sung said. He reiterated the university respects freedom of speech and different views.
The student union welcomed his response, saying it showed he was brave enough to take responsibility as a member of the management.