School of Law incident

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CityUniversity appointed an independent Appeal Committee to examine the appeals lodged by seven School of Law teaching staff concerning contract renewal. After two months of detailed consideration, the Appeal Committee concluded its findings and announced its decisions. Following the Appeal Committee's findings, the University has taken steps to announce and explain the Committee's decisions, in the hope of clarifying any misunderstanding of the incident. Here is a summary of the decisions, as well as a brief account of how the University responded to queries raised.

The Appeal Committee’s conclusions announced on March 21 are summarized as follows:

  • The Appeal Committee upheld the decisions made by the Approving Committee on four staff members who were not offered further contracts of appointment. In respect of three other staff members who were given a one-year contract, a two-year contract was offered to each of them;

  • The Appeal Committee found that there was no substance in the allegation of racial discrimination;

  • The Appeal Committee found that it was not improper for Professor Michael McConville, the Dean of the School of Law, to sit as a member in both the School Staffing Committee and the Approving Committee, and there was no conflict of interest due to a specific staff member sitting in the School Staffing Committee; and

  • The Appeal Committee concluded that there existed procedural and other flaws in the evaluation process undertaken by the School Staffing Committee and hence the evaluation of the eligibility of renewal of contract of the staff members concerned could not be regarded as comprehensive.

The Appeal Committee considered that it would not be right for the School Staffing Committee not to have duly completed the Re-appointment Forms. Nor would it be right for the School Staffing Committee to have refrained from considering previous evaluations in making recommendations regarding staff members" performance. In some cases where ability to understand the Chinese language was necessary, the Appeal Committee was of the view that assistance should have been sought from experts conversant with Chinese and with a perspective regarding recent law development in the PRC.

CityU President Professor H K Chang accepted the decisions of the Appeal Committee. He said, “The Appeal Committee handled the appeals in a serious and professional manner. They ensured that the appellants” viewpoints were fully considered. I believe that the appellants “cases have been treated in a fair and just manner.” The University has also agreed to remedy the situation whereby the Appeal Committee concluded that there existed procedural and other flaws in the evaluation process.

Professor Chang said, “The decisions of the Appeal Committee confirm that CityU is a tertiary institution that upholds the principles of equality and justice for all, and substantiate the effectiveness of the University's existing staff appraisal programme. Indeed, in order to achieve our education mission, the quality of our staff is invariably accorded priority attention. That is why, to deal with staffing matters, we have established a strict appraisal system, including an independent appeal mechanism to ensure that appeals can be justly addressed.”

He added, “CityUniversity always values greatly the opinions of its staff and students. However, during the course of the appeal process, the University is obliged to respect the independence of the Appeal Committee and should not influence its work. That is why the University considered it inappropriate to respond or express its comments on the matter as requested by some staff and students. Now that the Appeal Committee has discharged its task, we have immediately communicated with the Management Board, concerned parties in the School of Law, staff and students in the School of Law, and student representatives, etc. We have also reported the Appeal Committee’s decisions and our response to our University Council, and informed the University Grants Committee, and the Education Panel of the Legislative Council.”

President Chang said that he also values communication with staff, students and members of society. Correspondence and enquiries have been handled in a timely fashion. This can be illustrated by two examples. A letter, dated 5 February, addressed to the President from Mr K P Shum, Chairman of Federation of Hong Kong Higher Education Staff Associations, was replied to through the Office of the President on 25 February, contrary to reports that the letter had been ignored. And in regard to the press conference organised by the Students" Union, the President and Vice-Presidents were only informed of the conference and invited to attend on the evening preceding the function. The President and Vice-Presidents, due to prior commitments, were not able to attend. A letter to the Students’ Union, sent through the Office of the President, not only explained that they could not attend, but also fully responded to the questions raised by the Student Union.

Safeguarding the principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy, the University Grants Council (UGC) has always played a buffer role in its communication with the Legislative Council on issues related to its members. Mr Peter Cheung, UGC Secretary, was invited by Legco to attend a special meeting of the Panel of Education on 2 April to discuss CityU’s School of Law incident. Two senior staff members of the University, Mr John Dockerill, Vice-President (Planning and Information Services) and Secretary to Council, and Dr Ellen Ko, Acting Director of Human Resources, also attended the meeting as resource persons to the UGC team.

The University issued a further statement on 3 April, in relation to the Education Panel special meeting. President Chang reiterated that CityU is by law an autonomous academic institution with a strict appraisal process, including an independent appeal mechanism. He said, "The decisions of the Appeal Committee confirm that CityU ensures appeals can be justly and effectively addressed through its independent appeal mechanism. Previously I have publicly announced that the University fully accepts the report filed by the Appeal Committee, and will follow up on those imperfections."

Regarding the continuous concern of some staff and students about the operation of the School of Law, and to enhance transparency and accountability, the President said that he would propose the setting up of an independent committee in an upcoming Council meeting scheduled on 15 April. The committee will be assigned the task of examining and following up the recent happenings at the School. President Chang also said that he would meet staff and students of the School to enhance communication.

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