HKU appoints two new vice-presidents in contested shake-up

Appointments at Hong Kong’s most prestigious university come despite critics’ call for more consultation

October 28, 2020
The University of Hong Kong
Source: iStock

The University of Hong Kong (HKU) has appointed two new vice-presidents, as students’ union members and TV crews waited outside the vice-chancellor’s office for news of the contested management shake-up.

The nominations of the two academics attracted intense attention after their names were leaked to the media last week, and some websites were found to have removed mention of one candidate’s alleged membership of a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) university committee. Such committees are common at all levels of mainland Chinese higher education.

Max Shen, who chairs an engineering department at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-directs the Tsinghua-Berkeley Institute in Shenzhen, will become HKU’s vice-president and pro vice-chancellor (research), replacing Alfonso Ngan, a long-time HKU engineering professor.

Peng Gong, the science dean at Tsinghua University, will become HKU’s vice-president and pro vice-chancellor (academic development). He is also an emeritus professor at Berkeley, an institution where HKU’s vice-chancellor, Xiang Zhang, spent much of his career. Professor Gong will replace Terry Au, a Harvard-educated psychologist and special education researcher.

The pair of new vice-presidents are expected to begin work in January, on five-year contracts.

More than 4,000 HKU students, staff and alumni signed a petition asking that the vote be postponed to allow for more discussion among the university community.

However, Arthur Li, chairman of the HKU Council, said in a statement after the meeting that “the recommendations for appointment are results of thorough global search and elaborated review and consultation processes”.

Professor Li directly addressed the “speculations about the personal background of the two vice-president designates”, saying that they “had made a special effort to clarify their positions, including a statement from Professor Shen confirming that he is not a CCP member nor a Party committee member”.

Meanwhile, the long-empty seat of the law school dean will be filled by Hualing Fu, a human rights expert who has been with HKU since 1997.

The Global Times, a Chinese state media outlet, responded to criticism of the appointments in an editorial, saying that the move was a “first step” against “political hijacking” in Hong Kong.

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