A local engineering scholar will head Hong Kong’s Baptist University from next February and has pledged to uphold academic freedom and freedom of expression to the best of his ability within the law.
Professor Alexander Wai Ping-kong, deputy president and provost at Polytechnic University, was formally appointed as the institution’s next president and vice-chancellor for a five-year term on Wednesday.
Wai, an optical fibre communications expert who beat 200 candidates after a worldwide search to fill the post, also said he would take a “wait-and-see” attitude towards the sweeping new national security law, dismissing many of the debates and discussions about the legislation’s implications on Hong Kong as “speculation”.
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He made the comments ahead of his appointment during a 90-minute consultation forum on Wednesday for Baptist University alumni. The session was one of four held for Wai to present his vision for the Kowloon Tong-based university to academic and administrative staff, students and alumni.
In a statement, Baptist University confirmed its governing council had approved its search committee’s recommendation on the appointment of Wai as the sole finalist for the top job.
He will succeed Professor Roland Chin Tai-hong, 68, who announced last November that he would step down after his five-year tenure ended next month. However, Chin has agreed to stay on until the end of the year.
Among the reasons Chin gave for resigning was that he had passed the normal retirement age and denied his decision had to do with the political turmoil in Hong Kong, which was rocked by months of social unrest from June last year and caused upheaval on campuses across the city.
During one of Wednesday’s forums, Wai was asked by an alumnus for his views on academic freedom and freedom of expression. He was quoted by an attendee as saying he would uphold these values “the best I can”.
But he brushed aside questions on the possible impact on academic freedom of the national security law – which Beijing recently imposed on the city to target acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
“There is no court case that has invoked the national security law. So, I will take a wait-and-see approach. The national security law has brought Hong Kong into uncharted territory,” he was quoted as saying.
“There were a lot of debates and discussions in the last few weeks in the media about the implication of the national security law on the various aspects of our life. But, all these, may I say, all speculation.”
In a reply to another alumnus on a related topic, Wai said it was too early to comment on how the institution should work with the government to promote national security in universities, as required by Article 9 of the legislation, saying more discussions among local university heads were needed.
Wai first joined PolyU in 1996 and was appointed its deputy president and provost in March for a five-year term. He said he was pleased to accept the offer from Baptist University.
“HKBU is at the forefront of liberal arts education with a strong commitment to nurturing creative and caring leaders for our community and the world. I am excited to join the HKBU family,” he said.
Chin congratulated his successor on his appointment and said: “Professor Wai has outstanding academic achievements, and has made extensive contributions to the local higher education sector through his many years of service.
“I have full confidence that under his capable leadership, the university will continue to scale new heights.”
PolyU president Professor Teng Jin-guang said in an email to staff and students that he was pleased to learn about the news and wished Wai “great success in his new endeavours”.
Baptist University had a student roll of around 11,500 and full-time teaching staff of about 850 in the 2018-19 year.
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