HKU cancels meeting to discuss complaints against President Zhang Xiang over improper handling of university property

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The University of Hong Kong (HKU) organized a media briefing in the Ming Pavilion, a Chinese restaurant located in the Senior Common Room, where President Zhang Xiang introduced the development of HKU.

3rd October 2023 – (Hong Kong) In a recent development at Hong Kong University (HKU), the scheduled special meeting of the Council, the governing body of the university, to discuss multiple complaints against President Zhang Xiang has been abruptly cancelled. The complaints against President Zhang include allegations of his involvement in improper handling of university funds and properties. Among the issues to be addressed at the meeting were the involvement of the President’s Office in donation transfers, the exemption of tender procedures for hiring a U.S. -based headhunting firm to recruit a vice-president, and the purchase of BMW vehicle. Another complaint concerned the allocation of HK$55 million for the renovation of the self-financed “Senior Common Room” exclusively for senior faculty members.

Responding to inquiries from Hong Kong media outlet HK01, HKU stated that the Senior Common Room, which is managed by the faculty and operates on a self-financing basis, had not undergone any major renovation for over 30 years, resulting in severely deteriorated facilities. The university explained that the renovation was carried out in response to the request made by the Senior Common Room committee, and the entire renovation process, including the management contract, was conducted in accordance with the university’s procurement and tendering procedures.

The Senior Common Room, comprising three restaurants occupies approximately 9,500 square feet on the 14th and 15th floors of the  K.K. Leung Building on the Pok Fu Lam campus. The restaurants operate on a membership basis, with monthly fees ranging from HK$40 to HK$200, and are exclusively accessible to designated senior faculty members, not open to the general public.

According to internal documents obtained by HK01, the university’s Finance Office sent a letter to the Estates Office in June 2021, stating that HK$55 million had been approved for the renovation of the Senior Common Room, following the instructions of the then Vice-President (Administration and Finance).

The complainant questioned why the self-financed Senior Common Room relied on university funds for its renovation and why the cost per square foot was higher compared to other campus restaurants, amounting to a 70% to 100% increase.

To allocate the substantial renovation cost, HKU planned to utilise the Building Alteration Work Central Fund, which typically provides a maximum of HK$5 million per year for campus projects such as the installation of barrier-free facilities. In order to assist in the significant renovation expenses of the Senior Common Room, the university would need to increase the budget allocation for the fund.

The complainant also highlighted the notable difference between the operations of the university-run student and faculty canteens, which are outsourced and require the successful bidders to cover renovation costs, while the Senior Common Room operator is exempt from such expenses.

HKU stated that the Senior Common Room is a facility for the use of university faculty members. While the university provides the facility, its operation is self-financed. Due to the lack of major renovations over the past 30 years, the facilities have become severely dilapidated. The university responded to the request of the Senior Common Room committee and initiated the renovation in 2021. The entire renovation process, including the management contract, was carried out in accordance with the university’s procurement and tendering procedures.

The Council of HKU had initially scheduled a meeting today to address the complaints against President Zhang Xiang. However, on October 2nd, President Zhang sent a letter through his legal representative to the Council’s Secretariat, requesting a postponement of the meeting and the opportunity to be accompanied by his lawyer. As a result, the Council ultimately decided to cancel the meeting.