HKU President Zhang Xiang rebuts accusations, calls out the Council Chairwoman for not consulting on personnel selection

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Zhang Xiang

10th June 2024 – (Hong Kong) The University of Hong Kong (HKU) finds itself embroiled in a high-stakes power struggle between President Zhang Xiang and the University Council. The Council recently accused Zhang of being aware of certain administrative decisions, a claim Zhang vehemently denies, countering with five major rebuttals.

Zhang specifically called out Council Chairwoman Wang Peishi, asserting that she never consulted him on the proposed appointments. “Her public statements that the appointments were not made without my knowledge, and the Council’s email today claiming I was informed, are truly baffling and completely untrue,” Zhang declared.

The tension reached a boiling point on 28th May, when the Council, without prior consultation and in violation of the HKU Ordinance and Regulations, approved the appointment of several interim vice-presidents. This move, Zhang contends, was made without his input. Additionally, in the days following, confidential internal documents sent to Zhang were leaked to the media, further fueling the controversy. Today, despite opposition from Zhang and several Council members, the Council issued an open letter containing what Zhang describes as false information and unfair criticisms, compelling him to respond publicly to set the record straight.

Zhang insists that the Council Chairwoman never sought his opinion on the proposed candidates for interim vice-president. He highlights the Council’s claim that he was aware of these appointments as entirely false. On 21st May, the Council members received an agenda mentioning a discussion on “interim vice-presidents,” with detailed documents following only on 27th May. These documents included criticisms of the management but no specific proposals for appointments. Concerned about his role and authority being undermined, Zhang sought legal advice on the morning of May 28, only learning about the proposed interim vice-presidents and team reassignments during the evening meeting. His legal concerns were dismissed by the Council.

Zhang asserts that the Council bypassed him and directly appointed interim vice-presidents, breaching university protocols and the HKU Ordinance and Regulations. This action is currently under scrutiny by relevant government departments. The subsequent media leaks of confidential documents, tolerated by the Council Chairwoman, further complicate the situation. Zhang also questions the fairness and integrity of the Council’s decision to hold a special meeting on 19th June without addressing these leaks or his objections.

Expressing deep disappointment, Zhang notes the repeated leaks of highly confidential Council documents, reminiscent of a malicious complaint in September 2023. These leaks not only defame him but also threaten the university’s stability and functionality.

Post-investigation of an anonymous whistleblower complaint against him in February, Zhang has been inundated with 20 letters from the Council Secretary over 60 working days, with demands for rapid responses—some within just a day and a half. This barrage of questions and doubts has drained significant time and energy from the administrative team, likened by Zhang to a hysterical “witch hunt.”

Zhang questions the legitimacy of the letters sent by the Council Secretary, noting the absence of clear authorisation. By university protocol, the Secretary should act under Council authorization, yet Zhang, as a Council member, was unaware of any such delegation. His inquiries regarding this matter remain unanswered.

The accusations against Zhang pertain to his tenure, including actions during the former Council Chair’s term. Zhang points out that the previous Council, which included the current Chairwoman, found no fault in his performance and even extended his contract, contradicting the current allegations.

Last November, several candidates for the position of vice president were submitted to the Chairman of the School Council according to established procedures. However, the Chairman has consistently excluded these recommendations from the agenda of the Council meetings, and has failed to provide any explanation for the prolonged delay. It should be noted that he had previously proposed the addition of vice president positions. Surprisingly, the Chairman did not discuss these proposals with him or the members of the Council for the past seven months. It was only during the meeting on 28th May that the Chairman suddenly presented a list of seven interim vice presidents.

Moving on to the next point, it has come to light that the minutes of the Human Resources Policy Committee meeting on 22nd April were merely an uncertain draft. Several attendees of the meeting have expressed their objections to the Chairman of the Human Resources Policy Committee in written form. The draft does not accurately reflect the discussions held during the meeting, and the proposal to appoint two interim vice presidents was solely the personal opinion of the Chairman, not a recommendation of the committee as claimed in the draft minutes.

Furthermore, it should be noted that he is also a member of the Human Resources Policy Committee. Prior to scheduling the meeting, he had expressed his strong desire to attend, but due to the Chairman’s last-minute proposal, his schedule could not accommodate the suggested date. He earnestly requested the Chairman to choose an alternative date. At the time, the Chairman responded by assuring him that the meeting would only involve preliminary discussions and no decisions would be made. However, the current actions of the School Council, relying on the so-called recommendations from the meeting and the uncertain draft minutes, deviate from proper procedures and can be seen as a distortion of facts.

Lastly, over the past few years, he has regularly reported the university’s major developments and his own work to the School Council. He claimed that he has also provided detailed reports on specific tasks through other vice presidents and university executives to the subcommittees under the School Council. The various accusations in the letter are baseless and intentionally misleading.

Zhang believes there will be more attempts to defame him and the university in the future, including more serious accusations. The anonymous letters contained a significant amount of information sourced from various departments within the university, which only a few Council and management members have access to. Zhang believes that both instances of leakage are organised and premeditated attempts to defame me.