City University president will not renew his contract in 2023, becomes second top Hong Kong academic to leave in past two days

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The president of City University of Hong Kong will not be renewing his contract when it expires in 2023, with the institution’s vice-president announcing an international search for his replacement.

The news that Professor Way Kuo, who has been with CityU for over 13 years, would be quitting as head of the institution came just two days after the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology revealed that its president, Professor Wei Shyy, would be stepping down 11 months before his contract was set to end.

Neither Kuo nor Shyy disclosed their reasons for leaving, or what they planned to do next.

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City University vice-president Matthew Lee Kwok-on confirmed both Kuo’s departure, and the initiation of a global search for a replacement.

City University president Way Kuo. Photo: Edward Wong
City University president Way Kuo. Photo: Edward Wong

A City University council member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said governing council chairman Lester Garson Huang had announced the international search for the next president in the body’s last meeting, adding that word of Kuo’s impending departure had been circulating for a few months.

The source added that, given the current political climate, the next president would have to be a Chinese national deemed loyal to Beijing, adding that foreigners or those with ties to Taiwan or the United States would not be considered.

Huang said in an announcement that Kuo’s performance to date has been remarkable. “I personally applaud his many significant achievements to date and look forward with confidence to seeing many more between now and when he steps down,” he said.

In the same statement, Kuo thanked the council for the support, and said there was “still much to be achieved before I finally step down as president in May 2023”.

He added: “With the full support of council, we were the first Hong Kong university to introduce international performance and accountability standards in the form of a comprehensive performance-based pay review system, which has allowed me to attract some of the world’s best academics.”

Kuo, who has been president of CityU since 2008, was born in Taiwan and was educated and worked in the US, having formerly served as dean of engineering at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.

Dr Eugene Kin-Keung Chan, another council member, praised Kuo as a committed and enthusiastic leader with a willingness to listen, while also noting the university had made great progress during his tenure.

Chan said he respected Kuo for keeping education matters separate from politics, even with members holding a range of different views.

Aside from a strong record of academic achievements, he hoped Kuo’s successor would acknowledge the governing principle in Hong Kong of “one country and two systems” and not have a preset position on China, adding: “The future of Hong Kong is in line with the country’s developments.”

Wei Shyy resigns as president of HKUST, triggers global search for successor

Ho Cheuk-long, external vice-president of the university’s student union, said Kuo respected students’ views to a certain extent, citing as an example his refusal to follow some universities in making campus access conditional on Covid-19 vaccination. He expressed hope the next president would show a similar willingness to communicate with students.

Last May, Kuo was the only one of Hong Kong’s 11 university chiefs not to join a 1,500-member think tank called the Hong Kong Coalition launched by two former chief executives, Tung Chee-hwa and Leung Chun-ying. The think tank aimed to research how to improve the coronavirus-battered economy and resolve the city’s political impasses following the anti-government protests of 2019.

Around the same time, Kuo, along with Shyy, declined to put his name to a joint statement supporting the national security law imposed on the city by Beijing in June last year.

Only three of the city’s eight public university heads did not sign the statement, which voiced full support for one country, two systems, and reiterated the “paramount importance” of “stability and prosperity” for the city’s youth.

CityU later clarified that it supported one country, two systems, and adhering to the principle of keeping politics and education separate.

The other varsity head who did not sign the statement was Roland Chin Tai-hong, who was president of Baptist University at the time.

Chin later issued a separate statement saying he hoped the national security law would continue to protect academic freedom and institutional autonomy as promised under the Basic Law.

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