- University professor expresses concern over resignations in the face of stiff competition from other institutes on the mainland and Greater Bay Area
- Spokesperson says resignations are due to personal reasons and ensures there will be no disruption to day-to-day management
Academics on Wednesday urged University of Hong Kong president Zhang Xiang to appoint replacements as soon as possible after he revealed that two more members of its senior management team had resigned.
In an email to his staff, Zhang announced that the university's executive vice-president for administration and finance Steven Cannon and vice-president for research Professor Andy Hor Tzi-sum had recently resigned citing "personal reasons".
A spokesman for the university said: "The resignations are purely due to personal and family reasons, and are not related to the prevailing social and political situations in Hong Kong."
Cannon, who joined the university in 2013, will return to Britain after his resignation takes effect from October. Hor, who joined in 2015, will return to Singapore as he was due to leave in February next year.
The resignations mean that after Zhang took office in July last year, four out of six members in his senior management team have resigned, while the appointments of the two remaining members, vice-presidents Ian Holliday and Terry Au Kit-fong, will also expire by the end of this year and next year respectively.
The two members who previously resigned were vice-president for global affairs John Kao Weiyuan, and provost and deputy vice-chancellor Paul Tam Kwong-hang. Kao and Tam resigned in December last year and January this year respectively.
Richard Wong Yue-chim took over as Tam's interim successor in April, while former engineering dean Professor Norman Tien was appointed as vice-president for institutional advancement in June on a one-year basis. The vacancy left behind by Kao remains unfilled.
Abraham Razack, a member of the university's governing council, said he was surprised that Cannon and Hor resigned just when the new school year was about to start.
"It was unusual for anyone to leave the university at this time, but the show must go on," he said.
"The resignations will cause inconvenience. But no one is indispensable and it's normal for university presidents to build their own management teams."
Computer science professor Francis Lau Chi-moon thanked Hor for helping colleagues to explore new opportunities in mainland China and abroad. He hoped the replacements would be appointed soon.
"I am concerned about the post of the vice-president for research. HKU has faced fierce competition from other institutions, and we need to hire someone familiar with mainland China and the Greater Bay Area plan to continue with our work," he said.
He was referring to Beijing's ambitious plan to turn Hong Kong, Macau and nine Guangdong cities into a financial and technology powerhouse by 2035. Under the plan, local universities and research institutes have been promised greater access to mainland funding as Hong Kong seeks to reinvent itself as an innovation hub.
Ken Yau Tsz-ken, assistant director of HKU's social sciences faculty, also said he hoped the university would appoint "experienced colleagues" as replacements.
"The university's decision-making needs to remain efficient," he said.
But the university spokesman said the senior management team had made full provisions for interim transition arrangements and no disruption to development plans and day-to-day management were anticipated.
Mass protests triggered by the now-shelved extradition bill have gripped the city since June. Many university chiefs were drawn into the controversy as young protesters and students urged them to call for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to meet public demands.
Asked if the resignations underscored the challenge for Hong Kong to attract top academics, Yau said a city's political and academic environment were key factors for scholars as universities around the world competed for talents.
But a source familiar with HKU's management said Hong Kong was losing its international edge as an education hub as its society was getting increasingly politicised.
"The politics is taking the essence of academia, such as openness and objectivity, out of Hong Kong," he lamented.
However, Zhang wrote in his email that an international search would be launched immediately to find replacements for Cannon and Hor.
"Every effort will be made to ensure a smooth transition," he wrote.
Zhang also praised the pair for their dedicated service.
"Their commitment to our endeavours has helped the university advance significantly towards its goal of becoming Asia's global university."
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