SCMP Thursday, September 7, 2000


DONS' DOWNFALL

My polling concerns were legitimate: Cheng

Cheng Yiu-chung's open letter to staff and students:

"This has been a most trying time for every member of the university community - staff, students and alumni. As vice-chancellor, I bear ultimate responsibility for the state of affairs that has arisen as a result of the Robert Chung incident.
On my return from England in July, I was asked to take leave for the duration of the inquiry into the incident. Not having been at work or involved with university management since that time, I have not been able to keep in touch with the developments in the university and the thinking and sentiments of the university community. To clarify matters, I want to share with you some of my thoughts.
As I testified to the panel, I did express various concerns and comments regarding Dr Chung's polling work in the presence of Professor S. L. Wong and others. Some of these were my own concerns such as the relatively low academic value of polling work, the desire to see Dr Robert Chung do more in-depth research and the need for the university to be seen as politically neutral. Some were comments or queries conveyed to me by Mr Andrew Lo, such as on the issue of role-conflict where the pollster is also a political commentator.
At the time I believed, and still believe, that my concerns about Dr Chung's polling work were legitimate academic concerns. I would not have had these concerns if I did not care so much about the best interests and good image of HKU. These concerns all derived from my deep commitment to the goals of HKU, as is the case for all that I have done in my capacity as vice-chancellor in the last few years. However, I accept that when I expressed these concerns or comments in the presence of Professor S. L. Wong and others, I did not take positive steps to ensure that if these concerns or comments were communicated to Dr Chung, they would not be misinterpreted as an interference with his academic freedom.
I continue to maintain, as I have since the beginning of the incident, that I never attempted, through Professor S. L. Wong (or through any other means), to exert pressure on Dr Chung to stop or restrict his polls. I never intended to do this, and I never did this. On this, my conscience is clear.
Furthermore, I resolutely reject the "opinion" of the panel that I was involved in any attempt "calculated to inhibit Dr Chung's right to academic freedom". I never engaged in any action or said any word that was, in the words of the panel's report, "calculated to inhibit Dr Chung's right to academic freedom".
Events are always clearer in retrospect and given the sensitivities concerned, I regret that I did not handle the situation more astutely. Insofar as I have erred in my handling of the incident through lack of sensitivity, and insofar as this university headed by me has suffered in recent weeks, I assume full moral responsibility.
Although I deeply regret not being able to complete the work and reforms that I have begun at the university which you have all been working so hard to bring about, I feel that it is in the best interests of the university that I resign. The incident has left the university open to unrelenting media attention and public scrutiny. It has polarised the university community. The issue has become so contentious that it threatens to harm HKU seriously, especially relationships between colleagues. I feel that it is necessary to step aside in order to make it easier for the HKU community to begin the process of healing and reconciliation."