Council to dive into picks for HKU posts

Top News | Mandy Zheng 27 Oct 2020

The University of Hong Kong's governing council will meet today to discuss the appointment of two vice presidents whose mainland backgrounds have aroused controversy due to concerns over what some call Beijing's interference in academic freedom.

The two professors from Tsinghua University in Beijing - Max Shen Zuojun and Gong Peng - have been nominated for the posts of vice presidents for research and academic development respectively.

Sources said they will assume office in January on five-year terms.

The nominations have sparked a political row as Shen was listed as a Communist Party member on Tsinghua's website until last Thursday. This title was later removed from the site.

As for Gong, there has been a rumor that he had helped a top Beijing official's daughter gain admission at the University of California, Berkeley, despite her low grades.

Gong is a professor emeritus at UC Berkeley. He has denied the rumor and condemned it as smearing.

Commenting on today's meeting, a university spokesman said: "The HKU council's meeting agenda is confidential. Key personnel appointments will only be announced after all procedures are completed."

The Hong Kong University Students' Union president, Edy Jeh Tsz-lam, demanded the council require Shen to declare his political connections in the mainland.

"We absolutely cannot accept a party member joining management because this means HKU's future academic development will gradually become in favor of the CCP," Jeh said.

She questioned if HKU president Zhang Xiang had any conflict of interests regarding the nominations as he and the two candidates had all worked at UC Berkeley.

Members of the student union will head to Zhang's office and hand in a petition letter today, Jeh added.

The union issued a statement on Sunday night urging the council to postpone the appointments until the candidates' backgrounds were investigated and a report of the probe published.

It warned that if the council failed to do so, the appointments would be a "spat on all teachers and students at HKU" and symbolize the end of the university's academic freedom.

Jeh was joined by several pro-democracy activists yesterday, including Jordan Pang Ka-ho, an HKU alumnus and Central and Western district councillor.

Pang said the appointments lacked consultation with student groups, which had no opportunity to meet and talk with the candidates.

"We cannot let the political manipulation happen because HKU is the bridgehead of speech and academic freedom in Hong Kong," he said.

Former lawmaker and Neo Democrats member Gary Fan Kwok-wai suspected that a CCP member would have "political missions" in the city's campus, which might involve employment and fund allocation.

Separately, the Hong Kong Journalists Association pressured Now TV's news director Chan Tit-piu to justify his decision to remove a video ran on Friday in which education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen asked HKU to clarify Shen's background.

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