Letter to Lingnanians
14 July 2014
Dear students, colleagues and alumni,
During this hot summer time, people in Hong Kong are enthusiastically discussing a variety of political and social issues and they choose to express their views in different ways. As a member of this community, I have been following the discussions with interest, and have called on students, colleagues and alumni to express their views in a peaceful and rational manner. On 2 July, some students were arrested after a sit-in on Chater Road, Central, and here I would like to share with you the post-incident support provided by the University, as well as my personal views.
Our staff of the Student Services Centre have been keeping close contact with the students concerned starting from 1 July. In the early morning of 2 July, as soon as we learnt that at least nine Lingnan students had been arrested after the sit-in, colleagues headed over to the Hong Kong Police College in Wong Chuk Hang, trying to get in touch with the arrested students and to see if they needed any assistance. Colleagues were ready to provide emotional support and counselling services, and to refer legal advice to students in need. At that time I was attending an academic conference in the US. I was very concerned about students’ situation, so I constantly communicated with my colleagues via telephone and email. I requested my colleagues to try their best to provide appropriate assistance to the students. We have also lined up some support from our fellow colleagues and alumni. While some of you may think that such support is not sufficient, I hope you all can understand that we had tried hard to do whatever we could to assist the arrested students. Colleagues in various departments also took the initiative to work overtime and tried to source different kinds of support for students. All of us were so concerned because the arrested students are members of our Lingnan family. I am convinced that, regardless of whether we share the same views or not on some social issues, it is our responsibility to help students to overcome the imminent difficulties. Besides, I tried to arrange a meeting with the students concerned immediately after I returned from overseas, as I was anxious to learn directly about the students’ situation. As of today, I, along with two professors, have already met four of the students arrested on 2 July. I have got to know more about the help that students require from the University, and to hear their views on the incident. This meeting has also served to enhance the mutual understanding and care among Lingnanians.
Out of their sincere care for society, a number of Lingnan students have actively participated in social affairs, and strove to defend freedom and to pursue justice. In order to arouse the public’s attention and to galvanise support in society for pushing forward social and political reforms, they even put their own future at risk. I appreciate students’ enthusiasm, courage and perseverance, and was really touched by their lofty aspirations and selfless dedication. As a Hong Kong citizen, I fully agree with the students’ aspiration of fighting for universal suffrage in the election of the Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, and the goal of requesting the government to implement universal suffrage in 2017. However, as a university president, I cannot support students in defying the law. I firmly believe that the rule of law is an important cornerstone of our society; if it is under attack, the consequences would be disastrous.
University is not just a temple of knowledge, but also a place to develop independent thinking and to learn proper conduct. As the liberal arts university in Hong Kong, Lingnan University particularly emphasises the development of critical thinking skills and an attitude of mutual respect. The University respects the freedom of expression of all students, staff, alumni and citizens; it also welcomes the exchange of different opinions and enhancement of mutual understanding through rational discussion. At universities, it is not unusual for students and staff to disagree on any given issue. An old Chinese saying describes that the ocean has the greatest tolerance as it can accommodate a hundred rivers. Like an ocean, the University has the capacity to embrace diversity. While we may not be able to reach consensus on every issue, our relationship based on mutual respect and friendship should not be affected.
Therefore, while the University encourages students to participate in social affairs, I do hope that they will express their views in a peaceful and rational manner, respect others’ freedom and right to hold different views, and pay attention to personal safety for all. I expect the police to give fair treatment to every student who participated in the sit-in on 2 July or those who were subsequently arrested. Council Chairman and I will write pleading letters for students if needed.
Finally, I would like to reiterate once again that the University will try its best to provide whatever support it can to the students in need since we all are Lingnanians, even though we may have different views on some social issues.
Leonard K Cheng