A University of Hong Kong governing council meeting “ended in chaos” after students stormed the venue in protest at delays to the appointment of a liberal candidate for pro vice-chancellor, amid claims of political interference by pro-Beijing figures.
Lo Chung-mau, a professor of surgery at the university and a council member reported to have supported delaying the appointment, denied claims that he had taken a dive when he was jostled as students entered the meeting.
The South China Morning Post reported that Professor Lo collapsed amid “shouting and shoving in the overcrowded room”. An ambulance was called, another council member was sent to hospital after complaining of feeling unwell and six police vehicles were reported to have attended the university.
The recruitment process for the vacant pro vice-chancellor’s post has been going on since March 2014. Johannes Chan Man-Mun, a law professor and former dean, has been nominated for the post.
Professor Chan Man-Mun is said to be close to Benny Tai Yui-ting, the associate professor of law at HKU regarded as one of the founders of the Occupy Central movement. Last year, Occupy Central brought thousands onto the streets to protest against China’s decision to screen candidates in the 2017 election for the territory’s leadership.
Professor Chan Man-Mun has been singled out for criticism by a pro-Beijing newspaper.
Political sensitivities are running high at HKU. Six of the university’s 23-person council are appointed by Leung Chun-ying, the Hong Kong chief executive who is also HKU’s chancellor, and who was a target of anger for Occupy Central protesters.
The HKU meeting saw council members decide to continue with a policy of deferring the pro vice-chancellor appointment.
Peter Mathieson, the former University of Bristol dean of medicine and dentistry who is HKU’s vice-chancellor, had opposed the deferral, the South China Morning Post said.
The newspaper reported that student protesters chanted “appoint now” and refused to let council members leave.
The newspaper also said that Professor Lo’s conduct was likened to that of a “cheating soccer player” in “merciless” online reaction to TV pictures of the incident. However, Professor Lo denied feigning injury and said the accusations were an “insult”.
Professor Mathieson discussed the political sensitivities at HKU in an interview with Times Higher Education in June, in which he said there was “pressure from all directions, from all sides of any argument”. Professor Mathieson said the university regards “academic freedom and freedom of speech as absolutely core values”.
In a reference to the pro vice-chancellor appointment, he also told THE there were “a lot of politics around the process of filling that post…There’s a lot of speculation that the person that the person that may get appointed to that post may be somebody whose politics wouldn’t be palatable to all parties.”