Building stronger communication to narrow gaps

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Dear Colleagues,


On 1 May, a few members of the Council and the Management gathered in the Board Room of the ChengYick-chiBuilding for a special meeting on some work at hand. For me, it wasn’t just a Saturday and a public holiday (Labour Day), it was also the eighth anniversary of my joining CityU as the President.


Eight years may sound like a long time. When I was a boy, I learned about the hardship of the “eight years of resistance against the Japanese invasion” (1937-1945) and realized that so much can take place in eight years. However, surprisingly, as CityU continually made great strides, almost without anybody noticing it, I have been CityU for eight years. On that special day, I could not help but look back to draw useful lessons for CityU’s future and look forward to what lies ahead of us.


I have worked at six universities in my 35-year academic career since 1969. Undoubtedly, CityU is the academic institution for which I will have served as an academic the longest, and, obviously, it is the last. It’s only natural that my feelings for this university are stronger than for the others.


In 1995, CityU was officially recognized as a University. The following year, I left my post as Dean of the School of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh to join CityU. In order to stay low-key and make everything as simple as possible, I didn’t spend any time preparing for the inauguration ceremony, nor did I have an inauguration banquet. I simply took advantage of a previously scheduled award-presentation ceremony to deliver my inauguration speech. I think it was befitting of a new university of humble origins and consistent to my own desire to concentrate my efforts on academic and administrative affairs.


Nevertheless, I clearly remember suggesting that we needed to strive for academic excellence, and that we needed to pay more attention to accountability. I concluded my speech by quoting an ancient Chinese scholar: Who is the sage Shun? Who is the sage Yu? Anyone who serves the people well can also be a sage as well. In keeping with this sentiment, I always do my best, hoping that I will one day be as good as those who came before me. Likewise, I don’t envy other institutions that have received more recognition. As long as we work hard to strive for excellence at teaching and research, I believe our hard work will be recognized eventually.


Looking back, I feel quite satisfied with the development of the University as a whole. As early as the mid-1990s, the University’s programmes were quite rigid and the credit unit system was not yet in place. Whole-person education was a concept not then reflected in the curriculum. Although we had a strong foundation in teaching, we didn’t have as much standing as we recently have obtained in the Teaching and Learning Quality Process Review. Our research endeavours were still tentative and had not attracted the attention of the research community in the academic world.


AURORA driving rapid growth
The first five-year strategic plan I proposed, known as the AURORA Strategy, from 1997 to 2002, set the direction for the next phase of development for CityU. According to the plan, we appointed five Vice-Presidents to lead the University forward in different areas. This proved to be a successful path for us to have embarked upon. In 1996, CityU was given a HK$1.6 billion budget. However, because of our outstanding performance in teaching and research and because of our new initiatives, such as the Chinese Civilisation Centre, the English Language Centre and the School of Creative Media, in 2002 the University Grants Committee gave us a budget of HK$2.4 billion. It was an increase of 50% over six years, even though the number of our staff and students remained much the same.


Indeed, what has continually driven me to overcome obstacles through the years is a memory of when I first arrived at CityU. For four semesters in a row, I visited about ten students’ families each semester. The parents of these students were generally not very highly educated. But their great expectations for their children to contribute to the family and to society made me feel the heavy responsibility of an educator and proud of my role. This has made me repeatedly remind my colleagues that students must come first in any decision we make for the University. This has also made us successful in building CityU as a learner-centred institution for students.


Early in my tenure, I also recognized that our campus is too small and too much like a shopping mall in design. So we made plans to make this a place better suited for intellectual exchange and activities for our staff and students. No matter how hard we try, it’s simply impossible for us to have stone walls covered in ivy and vast campus grounds, but I feel a sense of satisfaction whenever I walk through the campus now.


About two years ago, I began to realize that no matter how hard I worked or how many meetings I held with students and staff, I, alone, could not accomplish all that remains to be accomplished and solve all the problems the University confronts. Thus, in 2002, I recommended that the Council appoint a Deputy President in charge of academic affairs so that I could concentrate my efforts on the issues that require my attention the most, such as setting the general direction, formulating policies, overseeing resources, obtaining the maximum resources for the University, and helping the University gain the recognition we deserve. Meanwhile, in order to simplify the administrative structure, I also reduced the number of the Vice-Presidents from five to three.


I’m sure my ninth year at CityU will come and go by even faster than the last eight. But this year and the subsequent few years are of critical importance to the future of CityU. I will work even harder, especially in the area of communication, both with the community- at-large and within our University. My annual visits to departments and offices have become such a ritual and serve less and less purpose. My random drop-ins at the student canteen also don’t help much to connect me with students. So, other than writing to you every month, as I have been doing in the past several years, I hope I can also speak with staff and students regularly and directly via public forums and IT on the video. This way, everybody can directly see and listen to me and distance between us will be shortened.


I hope I can also talk to staff and students regularly and directly via the mediums such as public forum as well as visual network.


Of course, what I need most is to learn more about what my colleagues think. Therefore, in the ninth year of my Presidency, I would like to create one occasion where colleagues can share their views on the University’s affairs with me in an informal, casual way. I believe our colleagues must have their own ideas as to how to keep CityU thriving. I hope when the time is ripe you will accept my invitation. Let’s discuss CityU affairs over a cup of tea as a substitute for wine. Let’s converse about Hong Kong’s tertiary education and about CityU like good friends.



H K Chang

President and University Professor



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Communications and Public Relations Office

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