And still no-one knows what a provost is


Most of us fondly recall university as an intellectually enriching while modestly debauched interlude that (perhaps) helped prepare us for real life. Yet for a few people, the campus is real life – a place they inhabit for decades and come to view as normality. Inevitably, they become institutionalized and warped. It is a world of doddering deans and raving rectors. Lecturers seethe about appointments that went to others. Department heads become obsessed with the lack of funding for Cultural Studies or work on 12-dimensional universes. Professors froth at the mouth over research grants that were denied. Feuds and resentments go on for years. Little wonder that right-thinking people back on Planet Earth have an instinctive aversion to anything to do with academia.

And so it is with extreme wariness that we consider the events last night at Hong Kong U, because on the face of it, it’s all about provosts and pro-vice chancellors and other tiresomeness.

The headline story is that, like noble counterparts down the centuries, students protested, specifically by storming the University Council. Someone climbed on a table. Someone else fell over. Council Chairman Leong Che-hung – last heard of back in the 1990s – ended up Stan-chaosdoing some sort of livestreamed late-night teach-in/debate with delightfully stroppy kids in T-shirts, while podgy middle-aged men in suits looked on, and cops hung around outside.

It looks like youthful idealism versus pompous and arrogant has-beens. On the surface, a semi-obscure academic is in line for appointment to a particular position in the university hierarchy, and the Council is delaying things because they want to fill another position first, though no-one seems to know why. The students protest because… students do.

But of course it’s more than that. The Chinese Communist Party is still sorely freaking out about the Occupy/civil disobedience concept that emerged from HKU nearly a couple of years back. The academic up for promotion, Johannes Chan, is a buddy of the pro-democracy theorist and fellow Professor Benny Tai. While we’re all supposed to be ‘moving on’ and ‘focusing on the economy’, China’s locally based officials cannot let go, and the intimidation, smearing and vindictiveness against the Occupy movement must continue. Beijing and local officials have essentially told government-appointed members of the Council to delay Chan’s appointment.

This political interference in yawn-inducing academic affairs is just one incident of United Front manipulation and bullying. It is not just an act of revenge against participants in Occupy (which would simply be childish), but part of an attempt to instill a climate of fear and obedience. It has already affected Hong Kong institutions from the media to the police complaints system. Next, it could be subverting the courts. This goes beyond students or HKU alumni, or even Hong Kong’s broader pro-democracy camp.

In this case, pro-government stooges have to publicly comply with the Liaison Office’s instructions. For those who are academics themselves, maybe there are research grants and appointments for themselves at stake – best collapse and leave in an ambulance. Some, like Arthur Li, seem to relish annoying students and opposition. Leong Che-hung, staying and letting students heckle him, may be struggling. So this is not about ivory towers but the real world.

For context, let’s put ourselves in the Communist Party’s shoes. To Beijing’s officials, the Occupy civil-disobedience idea was not some cuddly, non-violent, Martin Luther King-inspired, idealistic and perhaps silly bit of grandstanding. Benny Tai’s methodology of focus groups, planning, and outreach sessions leading to ‘disobedience’ looked like an organized challenge to authority, thus the government – and scalable and movable and potentially replicable across the border in the Mainland. For the one-party state too, this is a fight for core values and survival.


One headline, two papers

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26 Responses to And still no-one knows what a provost is

  1. Red Dragon says:

    I think you sum up “academics” perfectly, Hemmers, old bean.

    What’s that old aphorism?

    Q: Why are academic politics so dirty?
    A: Because the stakes are so low.


  2. LRE says:

    You might say the CCP reaction to occupy is a tradition or an old charter or something.

    The year after the Tian’anmen massacre saw one of the more radical Universities at the time, Beijing Foreign Studies University, cracked down on although obviously the CCP had much more free rein than at HKU: — all the top people were replaced with hardline communists; first year students all had to wear army uniforms and march/jog together to classes and meals; most laughably, given that it was the Foreign Studies University, all Chinese students were forbidden to mix with foreign students.

    Plus ca change…

  3. PCC says:

    “Academic politics are so intense because the stakes are so low.” – Wallace Stanley Sayre

  4. Stephen says:

    Ten out of ten.

    Was watching TVB News last night, admittedly the earlier one before the action kicked off, and I was explaining to my visiting mother that the way this story was being covered was an example of self-censorship now so prevalent in the local media.

    What seems to have changed for me, in terms of United Front tactics, is that all subtlety and pretense seems to have gone out of the window. CY Leung, rolls up his sleeves, brings back pantomime villains from the past (King Arthur) and the story predictably blows up and most of the local media dance around it the subject of why?

    Like Lead in water, will we soon be find out that China State Construction used (knowing or unknowingly) substandard pipe fitting made in … ? Rest assured if they were made in Japan this would have been reported by now.

  5. Red Dragon says:

    Thanks to PCC for the original saw.

    I do think, however, that Mr. Sayre pulled his punches a bit.

    “Dirty” is a far better term to describe academic politics than is “intense”.

  6. PHT says:

    Gooddog: That is the head of the Department of Surgery lying on the floor! There were at least 3 other medical doctors in the room (Council Chairman, Vice-Chancellor and Arthur Li) and possibly one other member from the Faculty of Medicine. If the “victim” was so badly injured, why didn’t one of the other doctors in the room come to his aid more quickly? As I can see from the footage, none of them approached him for 2-3 minutes.

  7. Nimby says:

    Someone forgot to tell Lo Chung-mau that The Hammer is so passe, he surely incited the students to riot in disgust with those moves.

    No matter, in the end the press will use the standard line they have already save as a macro in their word processors, “it on property prices (and not supply’ – the reverse side of that coin)

    Messer. Duncan Codpiece, lately of the House Dept, but now seen lurking around West Kowloon with shopping mall surveyors, has shown his animal genius on this point that secured him the West Kowloon graft. To divert attention from the mere trickle of flats at his last (bank) job, he set up a policy to incite and stir up a hubbub between the conscionable humans in HK and the anti-gay (can’t marry here, won’t recognize your marriage /civil union from elsewhere) , anti-single parent CCP supporters and Bible thumpers. Between all the hate being spilled and hands being rung over the backward thinking, the press and public will forget Lufsig and Codpiece did as the property tycoons want and failed to deliver more than a tiny dribble of affordable living space.

    Kind of funny to hear that dimbo on the RTHK-3 afternoon show praise Lufsig for his “poverty alleviation” program. Guess she must be referring to the latest plan to import Chinese escalator technology along with trains that fall off the track on a regular schedule in order to speed up the “enhanced” attrition policy implementation.

  8. Joe Blow says:

    Dr Lo’s dive is just as obvious as Superintendent Franklin Chiu’s ‘patting down’ innocent citizens with his baton. It is there for the whole world to see ! Enough already.

  9. Groves of academe says:

    duh……politics! HKU’s medical faculty is probably the most bitterly factional in the whole place. If a faction member goes down makes life easier for some!

    Rumour has it that of the four short-listed candidates for Provost, two have already withdrawn and another was apparently around the place over the past couple of days. This may be a very difficult post to fill!!

  10. PCC says:

    @Red Dragon

    1. I posted without reading your note; had I seen it, I would have refrained. It was not meant as correction at all.

    2. I had to google it. Pretty weak.

    3. The adjective I associate with the phrase is “vicious”. That’s pretty good, too.



  11. LRE says:

    I’m tempted to recall this moment in the Goodies

  12. Chinese Netizen says:

    @PHT (5:39) – These are Chinese people so it’s in their DNA to AVOID aiding someone in distress, less there be some demands of compensation by the “victim” afterwards against the “rescuing angel”.
    Socialist values from across the border in a “not me” society in which compassion and initiative (other than to enrich oneself) are signs of weakness.

  13. Mary Melville says:

    Dr. Lo faking it is in the fine Hong Kong tradition of male wimps, this is the city where a robust rascal village chief had an 85-year old lady arrested for pointing a finger at him. The real jaw dropper was tough as nails Ayesha getting an attack of the vapours and being stretchered out.

    It is no wonder our hospital emergency services are overstretched

  14. stinky foot says:

    Professor Lo should knock off those three martini lunches. Looks like he thinks he’s still having a knees-up. He should stick to surgery not politics.
    Oh, wait.
    Anyone fancy a fainting surgeon?

  15. stinky foot says:

    Well, Ms Mary, we now know who the good doctor shared his liquid lunch with. The old girl can hold her liquor–she at least stumbled out to her car.

  16. LRE says:

    @Mary Melville

    Don’t forget Chief Inspector Chan Ka-po who was so viciously assaulted by a woman armed with concealed breasts! How he made it out of that situation alive, I just don’t know.

  17. dimuendo says:

    LRE or anyone

    What was the decsion in the beast assault case? (Awful that I can even think there might have been a conviction).

  18. JD says:

    dimunedo: Convicted; sentenced to 3.5 months in jail today.

  19. Chimp says:

    ” If the “victim” was so badly injured, why didn’t one of the other doctors in the room come to his aid more quickly?”

    My dear PHT, you aren’t suggesting that these esteemed doctors should work without guarantee of compensation? My word…

  20. dimuendo says:

    “decision in the breast assault case”.

  21. Knownot says:

    I like to keep well informed
    (Troubled by the news, I seem)
    And these days there’s much to think about.
    (To have an adolescent dream.)
    Political intrusion at HKU;
    (How can I study, work or rest?)
    Lead in people’s tap water;
    (Please assault me with your breast!)
    Turmoil in the Chinese markets;
    (And – your weapon – why conceal it?)
    Perverse sentences by a magistrate.
    (Darling, let me really feel it!)

  22. dimuendo says:

    I find a conviction for pushing somebody with your breast to be virtually unbelievable. I cannot comment on the prison sentence for so doing, as I have run out of superlatives. As for the magistrate saying he has been threatend, by whom, the men in white coats?

  23. The lady should have argued that her breast was “an extension of her chest”. Now that’s the sort of logic the police understand.

  24. Dimuendo says:


    A. Belated thank you for the Goodies. Do not remember the episode but obviously the HK police have also been watching, at least at the end.

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