I was shocked to learn that the Council of Hong Kong University has rejected Professor Johannes Chan's nomination as the University's Pro-Vice Chancellor. The reasons given by the Council are spurious and totally unbecoming the Council.
I was Professor Chan's colleague for several years at the Faculty of Law at HKU. We are both public law teachers and collaborated on several research projects. He is also a distinguished lawyer who has participated in several leading cases on constitutional and administrative law.
It is absurd to say that he is not qualified to "process" job applications because he does not have a PhD. Some of the world's leading law professors and scholars do not have a PhD degree. This is the case also at Hong Kong's own distinguished universities, including HKU and and Chinese University of Hong Kong. Certainly in my period at the HKU, the appointments boards usually had only a minority of members with PhDs. When I was law student, first at Oxford, and then Harvard for graduate studies, not one of my teachers had a PhD! Even my own study for the Ph D degree at Oxford was supervised by a professor who had merely a BA--and was acknowledged as one of the most distinguished British professors of public law.
To say that Professor Chan has seldom published in academic journal or is seldom the "key author of the publication" is a deliberate attempt to vilify him. I collaborated with him in writing and editing two books, one on human rights in Hong Kong, following the adoption by the Legco of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, and the other on the decision of the Court of Final Appeal in the right of abode case, soon after the Basic Law came into force. Chan edited most of the chapters, co-authored one with me, and one on his own, in the first of these books. In the second book, he took responsibility for editing contributions in the Chinese language, and wrote a chapter himself. Both these books were well received and provoked considerable debate--as a good book should. Two years ago in a book that I edited with Professor Simon Young, on the first 13 years of the Court of Final Appeal and that of CJ Andrew Li, Chan contributed an excellent chapter on public law. He has published articles in well known law journals, in Hong Kong and abroad.
To say that his achievement is "not even comparable to an assistant professor's", shows the spite and vindictiveness of the Council, and its determination to get rid of Chan at any cost--or trickery. In all my years at the HKU, I cannot remember the Council stooping so low.
Professor Chan has also written about Hong Kong's law in popular journals and newspapers, to educate ordinary people and to stimulate debate--which is also the responsibility of a good law teacher and professor. His involvement with cases in the Hong Kong courts is also consistent with a scholar's contribution to the development of the law. Developing good working relations with the judiciary and the legal profession, which Chan has done with great success, is also often regarded as the responsibility of a law teacher. His contribution to the reform of law is well known, through litigation and research, contrary to the claim of the Council that his work has been of "low impact".
It is also a grave misrepresentation to say, as a member of the Council is quoted as having said, that Chan was elected Dean of the Law Faculty because he was "considered a nice guy". He is undoubtedly a nice guy. But before he became the Dean, he was the head of the Law Department. All the students and teachers had ample opportunities to see his leadership at close quarters. It is because we were convinced of his outstanding abilities, in giving leadership qualities, fundraising, relations with the judiciary and the legal profession, and a vision of the Faculty as a leading centre of legal scholarship, that we elected him as Dean. All the expectations that we had of him have been fulfilled. But there is no doubt that his achievements were at the sacrifice of his scholarship.
As a long serving member of the HKU and now an Emeritus Professor, it grieves me greatly to see the Council turn to these nasty tricks to deny Professor Chan, a distinguished scholar and administrator, the office of the Pro-Vice Chancellor, in order -- one must assume -- to appease the Chinese government. Soon after the resumption of sovereignty, the HKU and its Governing Council, stood up for Hong Kong's high standards of the rule of law and the rights and freedoms of its people (even to the extent of effectively dismissing a Vice-Chancellor for lack of integrity and taking orders from the Chief Executive, himself under orders from Beijing). I wonder whether the Governing Council realises the harm that is inflicting on the university whose independence they were appointed to safeguard. The blow to academic freedom at HKU will also have equally devastating impacts on other institutions of higher education in Hong Kong. Written by Yash Ghai.