The University of Hong Kong’s governing council on Tuesday voted to sack associate law professor Benny Tai for misconduct, over his criminal convictions related to the 2014 Occupy movement.
Tai himself broke the news in a Facebook post, following a three-hour council meeting to determine his fate.
A source told RTHK the council – headed by former education minister Arthur Li – voted by a majority of 18 to two to dismiss the scholar, and it is effective immediately.
“The decision to terminate my appointment was made not by the University of Hong Kong but by an authority beyond the University through its agents”, Tai wrote.
“If there is still any doubt of the advancement of ‘One Country, One System’ in the territory, my case should be able to remove it.”
Tai also said the move marks the “end of academic freedom in Hong Kong”, and scholars are no longer free to make controversial statements, nor would they be protected by their institutions from “internal and outside interferences.”
Tai added that he’s “heart-broken to witness the demise of my beloved university”, but promised to continue his research, and teach students about the rule of law in another capacity.
“My fight for Hong Kong’s rule of law also will not stop. I have the confidence to see the rebirth of a free HKU in the future”, he concluded.
Tai – one of the founders of the 2014 civil disobedience movement – was sentenced to 16 months in prison over public nuisance charges related to the mass protests, but is out on bail pending an appeal.
Following Tuesday's meeting, a student representative on the council, Daniel Lei, told reporters he was ‘disappointed and furious’ about the decision.
“I hoped that the lay members and the external members love, cherish and value our university as much as I, and as much as our student and staff do,” he said.
“However, I [very much] doubt this now.”
Lei said he hopes the council can revisit the matter once Tai’s appeal is heard by the courts.
The president of the student union, Edy Jeh, said the student body condemns the decision, positing that the composition of the council – which includes more than ten appointed members, some made directly by the Chief Executive and HKU Chancellor Carrie Lam – is to blame.
“I believe that the council made this decision out of political concerns”, Jeh said.
She noted that the university’s senate – a separate body comprised of teaching staff – had earlier vetted a reported compiled by a special panel, and decided that even though Tai had committed misconduct, dismissal was not warranted.
“Mr Benny Tai has been very great lecturer and teacher in HKU”, Jeh said.
“If the senate actually decided that he can continue [to teach]… it’s not a good decision to dismiss Mr Benny Tai.”
She said students will launch a petition in a bid to reinstate Tai to his position.
In a statement issued later on Tuesday night, HKU said its council had “resolved a personnel issue concerning a teaching staff member” – without naming Tai.
It said under established procedures, the staff member was given a full opportunity to present the facts, submit statements and documents, and to make his case to various bodies, including the governing council.
“Following the stringent and impartial due process, and after careful deliberations and considerations, the Council has come to a decision. The staff member concerned is being informed of the outcome accordingly”, the statement said.
It said it is not appropriate for the university or the council to disclose the decision, or make any comments, in view of privacy regulations and the principle of confidentiality.
“We hope members of the public understand that this is an internal personnel matter of the University and that the autonomy of the institution should be respected."
Last updated: 2020-07-28 HKT 22:05