HONG KONG -- The University of Hong Kong's governing council has rejected a search committee's recommendation to appoint Johannes Chan Man-mun, a pro-democracy scholar and former law school dean, to a senior post after months of controversy.
Chan was recommended for the post of pro-vice-chancellor last year, but the governing council had delayed voting on his appointment for months, despite pressure by alumni and others. Local media linked to the Chinese government have vilified Chan, in part for his relationship with law school colleague Benny Tai Yiu-ting, who guided the movement that produced last year's Occupy Central protests and street occupation in favor of democratic reforms.
The university governing council, made up primarily of outside appointees, voted Tuesday 12-8 by secret ballot to reject the search committee's recommendation that Chan should take the post in charge of academic staffing and resources. Council chairman Edward Leong Che-hung, who did not take part in the vote, stressed that the decision was based on the "long-term interests" of the university. "We are always supporting academic freedom and autonomy," he said.
Many, however, saw the hand of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments in Chan's rejection and viewed the vote as interference in the autonomy of the university and of Hong Kong. Billy Fung Jing-en, the president of the university's student union and a governing council member, said some council members had argued that Chan's lack of a doctorate made him unqualified to be pro-vice-chancellor. Others questioned why pro-democracy political parties had offered so much support for Chan, according to Fung.
"It is not about winning or losing, it is about challenges to our values and beliefs, our perseverance and endurance," said Chan. "The appointment process has come to an end, but the decision shows that we still have a lot of work to preserve academic freedom and protect the autonomy of the university."
Leong on Wednesday condemned "the deplorable action" by Fung in disclosing the closed-door deliberations. "This is detrimental to free discussion and exchanges of views at meetings and the council will consider possible sanctions," he said.
The University of Hong Kong, one of Asia's leading universities and the city's oldest, will restart the search for another candidate for pro-vice-chancellor.