Thursday, November 26, 2015   

Sung rides on Goddess storm

Mary Ma

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Just two days prior to this year's June 4 anniversary, Chinese University of Hong Kong confronted students over their bid to display a replica of the Goddess of Democracy on campus.

As expected, tensions mounted. The outcome? The management backed down and the replica is now standing tall inside the campus. It was also suggested the confrontation helped to spur a record turnout at Friday's candlelight vigil.

I'm not sure if CUHK vice chancellor Lawrence Lau Juen-yee or others on the administrative and planning committee were fully aware of the sensitivity of the matter. If they wanted to ban the replica, had they considered beforehand how others - students and radical politicians - would react, and how they would handle the fallout?


Lau's team acted tough in the beginning, only to retreat in the face of the students' threat to defy the ban at all costs. This was the worst nightmare any management could imagine. If the committee hadn't anticipated the outcome, its members must be simple and naive.

The row at CUHK took a new twist yesterday, raising many eyebrows at the university. Lau's designated heir, Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, amazingly disclosed to a roomful of reporters that he had reservations about the move that angered students, saying he was in the United States when the committee arrived at its decision.

But Sung said he was informed of the development and had voiced concerns over the use of political neutrality as the grounds to reject the application.

Sung went on to say he wasn't alone in holding this view, as other committee members also disagreed with the decision. He assured that after he takes over from Lau next month, he plans to resolve differences over the statue's future through dialogue with students.

What did all these remarks mean? The vice chancellor-designate effectively drew a rather distinct line to distance himself from the damning committee decision.

Cynics would be right in disputing the way Sung has absolved himself from a decision of a management that he was supposed to be part of.

Lau is unpopular among students who say he is too close to the government. When Sung was appointed as the successor, he was expected - aided by his liberal image - to improve the administration-student relationship.

It's understandable that Sung will have to clean up the fallout due to the ill-prepared handling of the Goddess event by his predecessor. But this doesn't justify him seeking to safely distance himself from the controversial decision. Bear in mind that Sung is no ordinary committee member, but also the vice-chancellor designate.

Had he felt uncomfortable with the Goddess issue, he should have sought to address it. Pleading that he was outside Hong Kong at the time is too lame an excuse. People should be able to have lofty expectations for him in such a controversy.

Sung may have won trust from students, but it's equally essential for him to gain the trust of his colleagues. It won't help the cause by projecting an impression that those backing the ban are bad guys, while he wears the white hat.

Nevertheless, the incident has provided him with the chance to demonstrate his public relations skills.

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