Last week, the university management, led by Zhang Xiang, accused the HKU Students’ Union, which has played an important role in the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, of “becoming increasingly politicized” and “radical in its words and actions”. Therefore, the university management will stop collecting membership fees for the HKU Students’ Union and providing the Union with financial management services, and take over the management of the Students’ Union’s premises.
Being an HKU graduate, I have always been proud of the autonomy HKU students enjoy. I was nurtured to be an upright individual in the 4 years that would stand up for social justice and democracy. I was taught we can make meaningful changes through participating in residential halls and university affairs. The motto of the University, “Sapientia et Virtus”, is to expect the school and its members to protect truths and freedom with knowledge and discernment, and to manifest morality, rather than be a yes-man of Beijing.
The University of Hong Kong has been renowned for its liberal ethos for over a century and has produced many stalwarts who have contributed to the community and are therefore renowned in the region and the world. Unfortunately, since the handover, Beijing has been tightening its grip on Hong Kong’s civil society and academia. Students of the university have organized many social movements over the years to fight against the political suppression. Many of my fellow HKUers have sacrificed their future in the fight for democracy in Hong Kong, and have been arrested, imprisoned and in exile.
The university should have been responsible for helping the students defend the values of freedom of speech and academia, and standing guard over the education sector, the students and the civil society at the time when Beijing adopted the National Security Law and Hong Kong society was in a state of white terror. Instead of doing so, the university aided and abetted the evildoers, and joined the ranks of the perpetrators.
Many in the administration may secretly believe that pledging allegiance is an exchange for academic freedom and a way of protecting the university, and that if loyalty is shown, the regime will not interfere. Not only is this degrading, but also they seem to forget that academic freedom lives and dies with civil society. And we should not forget that the majority of the university’s management is appointed by the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, and that the University Council is full of pro-communist individuals who have leaned on the rich and powerful, rejected dissidents, and expelled outspoken academics like Professor Tai Yiu-ting, not to mention protecting students and safeguarding academic freedom.
Back in 2016 when students blocked the university council meeting in protest against the rejection by the Council of the appointment of the former Dean of the Faculty of Law, Chan Man Man, as Vice-Chancellor and the inevitable appointment of the Chief Executive as Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, the university started to turn its back on students and the civil society. In 2020, HKU and 4 other universities issued a joint statement, expressing their full support for “one country, two systems” and understanding of the need for a national security law. Later on, it issued an official statement condemning the powerless after the protesters had no choice but to occupy the Legislative Council, turning a blind eye to police violence and the cruelty of the dictatorship.
The academia and the free world should recognize that HKU is no longer the renowned institution it was, it is no longer a beacon in Hong Kong, but an accomplice of the authoritarian regime. Scholars should reconsider if they would sacrifice their freedom to join HKU, and other institutions should reconsider if cooperation with HKU is appropriate given its corrupt behavior.
(Glacier Kwong, born and raised in Hong Kong, became a digital rights and political activist at the age of 15. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Law and working on the course for Hong Kong in Germany. Her work has been published on Washington Post, TIME, etc.)
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