HKU should fo­cus on aca­demics, not pol­i­tics

Global Times - Weekend - - OPINION -

The Univer­sity of Hong Kong (HKU) Vice-Chan­cel­lor Peter Mathieson on Thurs­day an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion, two years be­fore his con­tract ex­pires. Mathieson said his res­ig­na­tion was based on per­sonal rea­sons and he has de­cided to take the helm at Edinburgh Univer­sity.

As the HKU vice-chan­cel­lor, Mathieson has wit­nessed the Oc­cupy Cen­tral move­ment. In his e-mail to col­leagues and stu­dents, Mathieson said the HKU has de­fended its core prin­ci­ples “dur­ing a pe­riod of un­prece­dented po­lit­i­cal com­plex­ity in Hong Kong.”

Mathieson’s res­ig­na­tion has sparked some dis­cus­sions, in­clud­ing crit­i­cism that he had be­trayed the school’s core val­ues and spec­u­la­tion that HKU’s gov­ern­ing coun­cil Chair­man Li Kwok-che­ung forced Mathieson out of his post.

The HKU has been at the cen­ter of ten­sions and clashes in the re­cent years. One of the or­ga­niz­ers of the Oc­cupy Cen­tral move­ment was HKU as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of law Tai Yiu-ting, and HKU stu­dents have re­peat­edly demon­strated on cam­pus and once stormed a coun­cil meet­ing.

It’s a chal­lenge to serve as the HKU vice-chan­cel­lor dur­ing such a tur­bu­lent time. What’s worth men­tion­ing is that Mathieson has mostly re­frained from step­ping into the po­lit­i­cal spot­light.

For the past cen­tury, po­lit­i­cal move­ments in East Asia of­ten orig­i­nated in uni­ver­si­ties. It may be be­cause in the past many peo­ple were il­lit­er­ate and stu­dents were in a priv­i­leged po­si­tion to re­ceive new ideas. In to­day’s Hong Kong, many res­i­dents have re­ceived higher ed­u­ca­tion and it is un­usual for stu­dents to play the role of po­lit­i­cal pi­o­neers, which would only make the po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment more im­petu­ous.

HKU’s rank­ing among the global uni­ver­si­ties has been de­clin­ing. No renowned univer­sity in the world gains its fame from po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns. The ap­praisal of a head of a univer­sity is based on his aca­demic ac­com­plish­ment and his con­tri­bu­tion to im­prove the aca­demic per­for­mance of the in­sti­tu­tion. How­ever, as Mathieson leaves the HKU, the city’s at­ten­tion is on any­thing but aca­demics.

Hong Kong’s free­dom of speech is not un­der threat. The city is more demo­cratic and free now than when it was un­der the Bri­tish rule, when all se­nior of­fi­cials were ap­pointed rather than elected. It would be sad if the HKU is still un­sure about the progress the city has made.

The HKU re­mains a renowned school but its ac­cu­mu­lated rep­u­ta­tion is be­ing capri­ciously con­sumed by a few. The HKU does not need po­lit­i­cal fame. It is in com­pe­ti­tion with so many other great uni­ver­si­ties around the world where a pas­sion for street pol­i­tics is not part of the game.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.