University of Hong Kong in academic freedom row after liberal professor rejected

Vote against Johannes Chan appointment follows alleged ‘orchestration’ of campaign against him by Beijing

September 30, 2015
University of Hong Kong

Academic freedom at the University of Hong Kong has been snuffed out by forces loyal to Beijing, critics have claimed, after the institution’s council voted to reject the appointment of a liberal professor to the post of pro vice-chancellor.

Johannes Chan’s appointment was rejected by 12 votes to eight in a vote yesterday, going against the wishes of the university’s president and the search committee that nominated him. 

Ip Kin-yuen, a lawmaker and head of an HKU alumni association, told Reuters that it was “obvious” the decision had been a “political one” and added that “academic freedom will no longer exist after this”.

Peter Mathieson, the British president of HKU, told the news agency before the vote that he thought that there had been “orchestrated” pressure on him and others who backed the appointment of Professor Chan.

He also said that his personal emails had been hacked and published in pro-Beijing media, and could not rule out that Beijing was behind it.

Following pro-democracy protests that brought parts of the city to a standstill a year ago, academics have feared that Beijing is trying to strengthen its control over universities to prevent a repeat of the episode.

Last month, scholars told Times Higher Education how they believed they had been smeared by pro-Beijing press and passed over for promotion for being “politically incorrect” in the eyes of Beijing, although this was disputed by universities and other academics.

Professor Chan’s appointment was seen as a key battle in the fight for academic freedom in Hong Kong. The South China Morning Post reported that the Liaison Office, an agency of China’s mainland government, had been lobbying council members to vote against Professor Chan in the run-up to the vote.

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