I am writing to congratulate all new students on your decision to join the Faculty of Law at HKU; and to extend my warmest “welcome back to campus” to our current students.
Hong Kong is at a critical moment in its political and historical transition and you are undertaking your legal education at this important juncture. The Rule of Law is a core value of our society and indeed it is part of the DNA of our collective identity. Both before and after the 1997 transition, the Rule of Law has been the city’s bedrock and has provided the essential ballast to navigate Hong Kong through troubled waters. In recent years the city has experienced perhaps its ultimate stress test. Studying law at the University of Hong Kong in such testing times is particularly meaningful, challenging and intellectually interesting.
Allow me to begin with a few housekeeping matters: against the devastating backdrop of the ongoing global pandemic, I scarcely need to remind you all of the importance of mask-wearing, getting vaccinated and carefully complying with the social distancing rules. Notwithstanding the success of online teaching, which helped us limit the disruption to education during the initial phase of the pandemic, as professional educators we appreciate the fundamental importance of traditional interpersonal interactions and socialization to effective teaching and learning. We are therefore eager to resume face-to-face teaching as soon as possible. However, we are keenly aware of the risks, and to get to face-to-face teaching, your support and cooperation is going to be essential. Please look after yourselves and each other. Take care to religiously follow the social distancing requirements, including special seating arrangements for classes and lectures, hand-washing and wearing masks, bearing in mind that even those of you who are vaccinated are not invincible against what is, after all, one of the most formidable viruses the world has ever seen.
As your journey of intellectual and personal growth at HKU begins, may I remind everybody and reiterate the importance of the University’s Civility Rules. The University has adopted these rules in line with United Nations standards to which I would like to draw your attention (https://www.hku.hk/f/upload/19914/Civility-on-Campus.pdf). Having touched upon the importance of the Rule of Law as one of our society’s core values, let me stress that another core value is diversity and inclusiveness. This is a quality that is needed more than ever in our deeply polarized society. Located at the heart of a truly global city, the University of Hong Kong is one of Asia’s most international universities. Students naturally come from all over the world, from many different countries and jurisdictions and speak a variety of different languages. You will meet friends and peers who have grown up in different cultural backgrounds and who hold a healthy variety of, among other things, diverse political opinions and religious beliefs.
In the age of the European Enlightenment, the French political philosopher Voltaire once wisely wrote, "I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it." However passionate your own views and beliefs may be, graciously and generously tolerating differing opinions, and respect for people who hold them, is one of the hallmarks of an enlightened society. As Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” A motto of the university’s is “unity in diversity”; indeed our campus is an ideal place for you to learn from your fellow human beings in an apt demonstration of life’s wonderfully pluralistic nature. While engaging in impassioned, robust and frank debate on academic, social or political issues, please be open-minded and respectful of individual differences. It is our belief that by bringing together diverse views and characteristics, we create a dynamic, innovative and stimulating learning environment for all of you.
Some students have raised concerns about the impact of the National Security Law (NSL) on teaching and learning. I would like to reiterate that academic freedom is an enumerated right in the Basic Law of the HKSAR. It is also a core value of HKU that has been tested from time to time, but which has always been safeguarded with rigor and persistence. In the new era of the NSL, the University and the Faculty are determined to uphold academic freedom while complying with the NSL.
The Faculty reiterates and emphasizes the enormous value it places on the lawful exercise of academic freedom. We also insist on the significance of carrying out academic research and teaching and learning without fear. The Faculty will strive to uphold its institutional autonomy under the law and to create a free environment for intellectual inquiry and academic excellence.
While complying with the relevant provisions in the NSL, the Faculty has not initiated any changes in its research, teaching and learning, and international collaborations. Subject only to quality assurance and legal requirements, academic staff are free to design the syllabus of the courses they teach, and no restrictions are being imposed on the content of teaching and classroom discussion.
You are now a member of the HKU Law community. We teachers in the Faculty are the first port of call if you have any concern about the above-mentioned or other matters. Please feel free to reach out to your respective programme directors, Heads of the Departments or myself.
Welcome to HKU Law again and I wish you a healthy and productive year!
Dean, Faculty of Law
Warren Chan Professor of Human Rights and Responsibilities