A message for the VC-elect

About two weeks ago, the Chinese University administration announced that Professor Stephen Sung was recommended as the Vice-Chancellor-elect, and that he would be meeting with representatives of the staff, the students, and the alumni. The Chinese University Employee General Union (CUEGU) then issued an email to all members to collect views for its representatives in preparation for the meeting with Professor Sung. In normal circumstances, I seldom take such consultations seriously. But on this particular occasion, I suddenly felt an urge to write to the Union with my views. Here is the email I wrote to the chairperson of CUEGU:

As I’m not able to attend the consultation due to a work duty, I’d like to send in the 2 comments below:

1. CUHK becoming a university with no character.

As a staff member who has served CUHK for 19 years, under 4 VCs, I have found that CUHK is becoming just like any other university in Hong Kong, keen only to compete for external funding, without considering how external manipulation by agencies such as UGC and QAC have distorted the purpose of university education. As a result, in the last few years, CUHK has only been REACTING to external policies, such as OBA, the Audit report by the Visiting Panel, etc. (And now the assessment policy: we are letting bureaucrats tell us how to assess our students!) The University has been playing nice to the authorities, in order to secure more funding, without critical reflection on the educational value of these policies. I believe that we as a university should take an active role in leading society’s reflection on the purpose of university education, instead of just joining the dog fight. As for 中大人是「屬於少數知道自己是對,而且敢說出自己觀點的人」I haven’t seen this for years. (*The Chinese sentence is quoting Professor Sung, who once said so in his capacity as Head of Shaw College.)

2. Manipulating staff through short-term work contracts and appraisals

When I joined the University in 1991, the norm was to offer a new recruit superannuable appointment after probation. That was an indication of respect to academic staff. I can understand that in case the future of a department is not exactly certain, it might be necessary to put aside a small proportion for contract staff. . But now, even when this is not an issue, the University is using short-term contracts to manipulate staff and to stretch their performance. Appraisal in those days was re-affirmation of a colleague’s contribution to the department and university. But now, it has become a race with no definite finishing line. We can all accept the importance of minimum performance standards. But the situation now is one of using contract renewals and appraisals., to keep exploiting staff endlessly.  I hope the University will understand that the best way to motivate staff to strive for excellence is to respect them, take pride in them, and make them proud of their work, not by manipulating them through contracts and appraisals.

I can understand that the global trend of managerialism and so-called public accountability, and league tables, have resulted in many universities, both locally and globally, joining the rat race. But this is exactly the moment when we have to show society that CUHK is DIFFERENT: CUHK is a caring university; she cares about society; she cares about her staff. CUHK is a leading university: she leads society in demonstrating what real university education is all about; she leads by exploring what is really good for humanity.

Dr Paul Sze
Dept of Curriculum and Instruction

The chairperson of CUEGU, acknowledging receipt of the email, pledged to forward the message to Professor Sung, and the Search Committee.

Those who know my temperament will know that a message like the above is exceptionally strong-worded from me. In retrospect, I probably didn’t write to express my expectations for the new VC, but the chairperson’s call for views had triggered the outburst of my frustrations with the direction that CUHK had been heading in. I know that CUHK is not alone in joining the academe rat race. In fact, newcomers to the CUHK faculty may not see anything wrong with it. But perhaps I have had higher hopes for CUHK because of her history, perhaps I am an alumnus, and perhaps because I still believe that universities can be society’s conscience, ……


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