Hong Kong Baptist U. prof censured

A publicly funded university with a Baptist heritage has landed in controversy over relations between citizens of Hong Kong and the government in Beijing.

By Bob Allen

A Hong Kong Baptist University professor will lose his job for publishing unsubstantiated claims about another university in a controversial book that has been denounced as politically motivated.

Radio Television Hong Kong reported Dec. 12 that Professor Victor Sit Fung-shuen would be removed as director of HKBU’s Advanced Institute for Contemporary China Studies. The decision comes after an investigation into disputed claims in the 2012 edition of the Blue Book of Hong Kong, published by Hong Kong Baptist University with Sit as editor in chief.

The book, intended to evaluate the first 15 years of Hong Kong’s “One Country, Two Systems” reunification with mainland China, criticized “a multitude of intrusion of Western-style” values in education programs of universities and secondary and primary schools in the former British territory.

"For example, the Chinese University's general education curriculum is sponsored -- and its materials co-written -- by a U.S. foundation,” the book alleged. “Its teaching direction has, in practice, been dominated by that foundation."

The Chinese University of Hong Kong, with more than 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students, called the allegation "irresponsible and fictitious." Hong Kong Baptist University, a school founded in 1956 by the Baptist Convention of Hong Kong with support from American Baptists that became publicly funded in 1983, apologized to Chinese University and established a committee to investigate.

That committee issued a report finding that Professor Sit knowingly promoted unsubstantiated information as scholarship, failed to properly identify or acknowledge contributors and tried to blame subordinates for his own mistakes.

University President Albert Chan accepted the report's recommendation to strip Professor Sit of the directorship of the Advanced Institute for Contemporary China Studies. The report said another panel would be set up to consider further disciplinary action, and the professor’s contract won’t be renewed when it expires next year.

Chan said the incident had a negative impact on the reputation of Hong Kong Baptist University and raised concerns among its staff. He apologized to Chinese University and the general public, and gave assurance that the university will do its utmost to uphold core values of academic integrity and freedom.

The controversy hit at a time when public opinion surveys in Hong Kong show dissatisfaction with the current government in Beijing running higher than any time since the territory was returned to Chinese rule by Great Britain in 1997.

Sit, founding director of the Advanced Institute for Contemporary China Studies, has authored or edited more than 40 books. He is a former delegate to the National People’s Congress, the highest state body in the People’s Republic of China.

In addition to the allegation against Chinese University, the Blue Book said that all top civil servants should be appointed by authorities in Beijing. One former education policy maker described the publication as “over-politicized.”