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On academic freedom

Diqiucun_Cunmin
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10/1/2015 4:09:02 PM
Posted: 1 year ago
Before I actually get into academic freedom, I'd like to provide the backstory to this first. If you follow Chinese news closely, you probably know this pretty well, though I assume most members don't. If you don't, sorry for the long read.

There's been a huge controversy lately at the University of Hong Kong on the appointment of a pro=vice chancellor (PVC). The Search Committee led by the President, Prof. Peter Mathieson, suggested Prof. Johannes Chan, former dean at the Faculty of Law, to fill this position. Prof. Chan, however, is deeply unpopular with the Chinese and Hong Kong governments because of his active participation in public discourse and because Benny Tai, one of the associate professors of at the Faculty, was a ringleader in last year's protests.

The government allegedly phoned members of the school's Council, which is responsible for deciding whether Prof. Chan gets the job, to deter them from voting for Chan. They couldn't find a good excuse to refuse Chan, though, so they deferred the issue for a few months, pretty much waiting for divine intervention. Eventually, the day before yesterday, they decided that they had waited enough, and rejected Chan from the position.

The controversy has sparked much debate both inside and outside the school. One side (which appears to be the minority amongst commentators) believes that the school is right to decide against Prof. Chan. Their reason is that Prof. Chan has been too actively involved in politics, and appointing him as PVC would stir up even more controversy. (Personally, I don't think Prof. Chan is *that* active - he mostly opines and joins think tanks without real action - but that's beside the point.) Some go as far as to condemn Prof. Chan for his activeness.

The other side believes the government is violating academic freedoms by preventing a well-qualified former dean from getting the position of PVC. This appears to be a fairly mainstream view, and is supported by many of our professors. Prof. Timothy O'Leary, Head of the School of Humanities, was the most vocal among them. Prof. Sun Kwok, Dean of Science, also made his position quite clear. In fact, of the members of the Council who are actually staff or students of HKU, all but one (Prof. Lo Chung Mau) support Prof. Chan.

My question to DDO members is, do you think this constitutes a case of academic freedom? I'm personally on the fence on this one. I stand by the Confucian position (Analects 18.7 etc.) that academics should be active in politics; it's one of the reasons I like Chomsky, even though I disagree with many of his political (and linguistic) views. I think Prof. Chan's political views are no reason to reject him.

However, I'm not sure if this constitutes academic freedom. Prof. Chan was, after all, not barred from participating in future political activities. Besides, is the right to participate in sociopolitical affairs really encompassed by academic freedom?

This controversy is so loaded with emotion and polarised viewpoints that it's hard to get a fair opinion from people IRL. (When I left school yesterday, I noticed that the Student's Union and their fans had stuck up posters condemning the Council's decision everywhere I looked...) I was wondering what DDO users think of this from an outsider's POV?
The thing is, I hate relativism. I hate relativism more than I hate everything else, excepting, maybe, fibreglass powerboats... What it overlooks, to put it briefly and crudely, is the fixed structure of human nature. - Jerry Fodor

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Diqiucun_Cunmin
Posts: 2,710
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10/2/2015 1:47:42 PM
Posted: 1 year ago
Things are escalating! Prof. Mathieson told Reuters that he couldn't rule out the possibility of interference by Beijing. This must have angered the government, because after my stats lecture today, I walked by the area outside Haking Wong Building and the pro-government protesters were shouting slogans against Prof. Matthieson.

Meanwhile, Prof. Christopher John Webster, Dean of Architecture, has expressed support for the Council. Prof. Mathieson sent everyone an email assuring us that the university will continue to enjoy academic freedoms.
The thing is, I hate relativism. I hate relativism more than I hate everything else, excepting, maybe, fibreglass powerboats... What it overlooks, to put it briefly and crudely, is the fixed structure of human nature. - Jerry Fodor

Don't be a stat cynic:
http://www.debate.org...

Response to conservative views on deforestation:
http://www.debate.org...

Topics I'd like to debate (not debating ATM): http://tinyurl.com...