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Letter to Lingnanians

12 November 2014

Leonard K Cheng

Leonard K Cheng

Dear students, colleagues and alumni,

Time flies and the Fall semester is about 2/3 over. This semester has been a trying period for Hong Kong people, as many parties have tried in vain to break the impasse associated with the Occupy Movement. While the situation seems to have stabilised somewhat in recent days, the apprehension and frustration experienced earlier – the fear that people in the protest areas, in particular our students and colleagues, may be injured or arrested and the inability to get them to stay out of harm’s way – is still fresh in our memory. As of the writing of this letter, there is no clear sign that the current chaotic situation will end any time soon. I hope all the relevant parties in the long-drawn-out social and political impasse will open their hearts and minds, and work together to end the current abnormality soon. Hong Kong’s public has demonstrated a remarkable degree of patience and tolerance, but how long can this chaos continue without further suffering and tragic outcomes?

Against this unsettling background, I am pleased to report that the great majority of our students carry on their studies as usual and that campus has returned to normal after a very brief period of disruption around the end of September. I am also relieved that the three Lingnan students injured in the Occupy Movement sustained no major wounds, and the few who had been arrested were subsequently released, with only one student still on bail. We shall continue to render our assistance as appropriate to help the student deal with the aftermath of the arrest.

Let me now turn to some exciting developments of our University since my last report to you. The Jockey Club New Hall, located in the northern area of our campus, was officially opened on 18 September. The construction of this new student hostel was funded with a generous HK$85 million donation from The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust. At the opening ceremony, the Jockey Club New Hall and the existing Jockey Club Hall adjacent to it were named the “Jockey Club Student Village” as a whole.

With the addition of 400 new hostel places provided by the Jockey Club New Hall, we have now finally achieved our long-sought goal of providing full residence to all undergraduates, i.e. they can choose to live on campus during their four years of study if they so desire. With this goal achieved, the University is now planning for the construction of living quarters on the southern part of the campus for faculty members. On-campus quarters for our faculty members will be of great importance to the future of our university for at least two reasons: a) they are a powerful competitive tool in the recruitment of outstanding faculty members against peer universities that have been providing on-campus quarters to their faculty members, and b) these quarters enable faculty members residing in them to participate in more on-campus extra-curricular activities (especially those in the evenings and weekends) than if they reside off-campus in faraway places, thereby contributing to the quality of our education and the liveliness of our campus.

I am very pleased to report that a record HK$3.68 million was raised from the fifth “Walking with Lingnanians” fundraising walkathon on 19 October. The amount raised this year was twice that of last year, which had also been record-setting then. On behalf of the University, I would like to express my gratitude once again to the 1,000-plus participants, sponsors, the Lingnan University Alumni Association and other supporting organisations, our Council’s Institutional Advancement Committee led by Prof Albert Ip, and our Office of Institutional Advancement and Alumni Affairs, for contributing to the success of the event. The walkathon donations will be used to support the University’s programmes that enhance our students’ whole-person development.

Other good news for students included the launch of the AR Mentorship Programme that gives Risk and Insurance Management undergraduates more exposure to the insurance industry, equipping them with enhanced skill-sets needed to deal with future career challenges.

An interdisciplinary Performance Studies programme has been introduced as a new minor, involving courses in Cultural Studies, Chinese, English, History, and Visual Studies. This new programme will further enrich the University’s liberal arts curriculum and nurture more creative arts and culture talents for Hong Kong and neighbouring areas.

A Science Unit has been established under the Core Curriculum and General Education Office to develop general science education courses. Together with the existing Core and Cluster courses offered by the existing Faculties, the courses offered by this new Unit will complete the key foundation elements of our liberal arts education. It will be up and running in the 2015/16 academic year.

Speaking of liberal arts education, let me share with you the information that I gave a talk in Brunei at a mid-October meeting of educators organised by the university ranking agency Quacquarelli Symonds (QS). My talk was entitled “Liberal arts education in Asia: A worthwhile experiment.” After reviewing the pros and cons against the background of significant differences between Asia and the US (where liberal arts education is most developed) in cultures, political systems, ideologies, and parents and teachers’ perception about the value of a liberal arts education, my main conclusion was that this relatively expensive mode of higher education would be a very worthwhile experiment for Asia. I have also made a suggestion to QS and other ranking agencies: rank the small liberal arts institutions separately from other higher education institutions, in particular the much bigger research universities. Comparing likes with likes will provide more useful information to prospective students and their parents.

Our University Council has set up a panel to review the Lingnan University Ordinance. While the review will focus mainly on student participation in Council business (in particular in the search for new President and new Vice President), recommendations on other aspects could also be made for Council consideration if deemed appropriate. If you missed the consultative session held on 26 September, please be sure to come to the 17 November session. In any event, you may provide input via the website of the Review Panel by 30 November 2014.

Beginning this year, the University will hold at least one staff forum and one student forum each semester, where the University’s senior management will share with colleagues and students the University’s major developments and endeavours, and answer any questions raised by the forum participants. I believe that effective communication among staff, students and university management is crucial to making Lingnan a robust, humanistic and happy community for teaching and learning, research and scholarship, and service and outreach.

A staff forum and a student forum were held on 29 October and 4 November respectively, during which I briefed participants on the University’s latest developments, and highlighted the proposed new version of our vision, mission and core values. About the latest developments, I provided a progress update on our search for a new Vice-President, the ongoing review of the Lingnan University Ordinance and our preparation of the Academic Development Proposals 2016-20 for submission to the University Grants Committee (UGC) next year. Looking into the near future, we shall host the Global Liberal Arts Alliance Conference on 23-25 March 2015, and have the second UGC Quality Assurance Council’s Audit Visit in mid-January 2016.

Other topics covered at the staff forum included the discontinuation of the internally funded Teaching Remission Scheme from the 2015-16 General Research Fund (GRF)/ Early Career Schemes (ECS) funding exercise; a review of faculty performance assessment, criteria and procedures for contract renewal, promotion and substantiation of academic staff; and a suggestion to establish a “sabbatical leave” system to replace the existing “study leave” and “research leave.” As expected, some issues were raised on the spot and answered accordingly.

I am glad that there were a good turnout and excellent interactions at the forums, and look forward to seeing more colleagues and students in future forums.

Leonard K Cheng