Protests and outcry spread throughout the University of Hong Kong last month after the university’s governing council vetoed former law dean Johannes Chan Man-mun’s candidacy as pro-vice-chancellor.
Chan’s supporters argue the council denied his bid for appointment in retaliation for his pro-democracy background and close ties to the Occupy Central protest movement.
“There is now a culture of fear, especially among junior teaching and research staff,” professor Timothy O’Leary, one of Chan’s supporters, said in an interview with the South Morning China Post.
He said university faculty have since formed a “vigilance group” to support colleagues who might come under pressure or interference over their academic work.
Students are also adding their voice to the growing chorus of activists and faculty who oppose council’s rejection of Chan and believe council members are controlled by Beijing.
The Hong Kong Federation of Students is coordinating referendums at eight universities seeking support from students for amendments to universities’ governance policies, greater student and faculty representation on governing bodies, and removal of Hong Kong’s chief executive, who sits as chancellor at all the city’s public universities.
“The government has turned the universities’ councils and boards into a means to distribute political rewards and engage in political retaliation,” said Alan Wong Ka-fai, a deputy secretary general of the HKFS.
Wong said the occupation of campuses is likely if a class boycott is launched based on the results of the referendums, and it could be more intense than the one last year in support of the pro-democracy movement.