The University of Hong Kong has appointed two mainland Chinese academics as vice presidents amidst controversy regarding their political affiliation and university president Zhang Xiang’s perceived cronyism.
The HKU Council, the top governing body, at a Tuesday meeting named Max Shen vice president for research and Gong Peng vice president for academic development. Shen was the Chinese Communist Party secretary for his department in Beijing’s Tsinghua University, where Gong was a fellow scholar.
Law professor Fu Hualing was promoted to head the faculty of law. His appointment was unanimous, whereas in the case of the other two, all council members except one voted in favor; a member voted against Shen and abstained from voting for Gong.
Zhang welcomed the new hires, saying that Shen would “help to expand the research enterprise of HKU and to strategically grasp opportunities brought about by the entrepreneurial globe.” Gong would be responsible for “the university’s strategies in recruiting and retaining a world-class and diverse faculty, facilitating a culture of academic excellence, and enabling faculty success,” he added.
Shen’s party background was previously stated in a description of him on the Tsinghua website, though the webpage had since been revised and his name removed. In response, HKU Council Chairman Arthur Li said that the two appointees “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.”
He added: “The issues of concern against the two professors have been satisfactorily clarified and… all allegations are found to be unsubstantiated.”
Li also defended the appointment process, saying that the candidates were the result of a thorough global search and elaborate review and consultation processes. The HKU said that it had identified close to 200 candidates for each position.
Daniel Lei, a student representative on the university council, said the result was regrettable.
President of the HKU student union Edy Jeh also said she was “disappointed and angry” at the outcome. The council had ignored the voices of students and the decision represented the end of academic freedom and institutional autonomy, Jeh said.
Before the vote, 11 members of the university’s court had issued a joint statement asking the council to postpone and reconsider the appointment of Shen.
HKU student union representatives also held a peaceful sit-in to protest the appointments. Around two dozen police officers were stationed outside the campus, but did not intervene.
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