A selection committee at Hong Kong's oldest university has dropped its plan to recommend a University of Delaware professor as its next vice chancellor in the sensitive run-up to Chinese rule.
The selection committee at the University of Hong Kong was to have recommended Woo Shien-biau, 57, the only remaining candidate, to replace Wang Gungwu, who was due to retire this summer, at a university council meeting last month.
Professor Woo later withdrew his candidacy and complained at anonymous attacks on his intergrity.
"If a future candidate . . . is interested, I can be convinced to provide a map showing where the land mines are," he told Hong Kong newspapers. "Having one's integrity attacked, even by an anonymous accuser, is not, however, a laughing matter.
"I categorically deny that I offered to extend the contract of any staff member of the university in exchange for a vote . . ."
The university rejected claims that the selection process had been flawed and declared Professor Woo "a man of integrity and propriety". It now has to begin its search for a successor to Professor Wang from scratch, after a search of more than a year. The about-turn by the committee has forced Professor Wang to defer his retirement for another six months.
The university was earlier forced to issue a statement after information about Professor Woo and another Hong Kong candidate were leaked to the local media.
Sir Ti-liang Yang, the chairman of the university council, blamed the leak on the two student representatives on the selection committee.
They denied the accusation and one of them later resigned from the committee in protest.
Professor Woo, a China-born professor of physics, apparently upset the students when he said he was prepared to join a working committee set up by China to advise on matters relating to the handover of Hong Kong in 1997. Members of the committee are regarded as being pro-China.
The selection of the new vice chancellor is considered a politically important appointment because of the university's position in the community and its traditional influence in the administration of colonial Hong Kong.
It is also seen in some quarters as difficult to fill, requiring some one able to take on a high profile position yet acceptable to China.