Statement by Former Students of University of Macau Jason CHAO and Icy KAM on Academic Freedom

Dr Bill CHOU, former Associate Professor at the University of Macau, was dismissed, technically was refused to renew his employment agreement, by the University in August 2014. The allegation of an organised persecution of outspoken scholars in Macau first came into light in late June this year which has sparked controversy among students and teachers at higher-education institutions now seems to be further supported by the documents released by Dr CHOU in relation to the disciplinary procedure against him.

Dr CHOU was accused of imposing his political view on students, grading students with political bias and providing incentives to his students who would participate in “extremist” activities. After a careful review of the said documents, we discovered the following issues suggesting the procedure had been conducted without regard to the due process and had appeared no more than a “kangaroo court”.

The procedure against Dr CHOU was initiated based on an anonymous letter and a letter by the Hou Kong School. The University held two rounds of interviews with students in Dr CHOU’s class for “verification”. Students in the first round of interviews, which took place on 3 and 4 July 2012 after the University’s reception of the first (anonymous) letter, failed to offer an unified or consistent impression supportive of the allegations made in the anonymous letter. Students confirmed that participation in or observation of activities recommended by Dr CHOU had been optional and might not bring extra credits without turning in a reflection paper. Students further suggested that Dr CHOU had demanded quality and depth from their reflection rather than a political stance in his favour. The accusation of “inciting students to take part in ‘extremist’ activities” clearly lacked concrete evidence.

The second letter (by the Hou Kong School) pointed a finger at a “radical” act by Dr CHOU of distributing leaflets about fair election outside the front gate of the school building. Not to mention how poorly the school had reasoned in its complaint against Dr CHOU, the University seemed to have bought the school’s opinion without an overall review of the facts and the principles that should be upheld. The University claimed that Dr CHOU conduct had “indirectly undermining the image of the University of Macau as an independent public institution” by citing an editorial in San Wa Ou Pou dated 19 April 2013. We seriously doubt how “fair election” could be seen as “radical.” The Commission on Electoral Affairs in August 2013 issued directives requiring private entities (including schools) to fairly treat every election list. Not only fair election is required by law but a value the community as a whole cherishes. The hindrance by the University to its scholar’s advocacy for fair election in our view undermines the rule of law and “the image of the University of Macau as an independent public institution.”

It must be noted that Hou Kong Schools was among the subsidised private schools selectively allowing campaign materials of election list(s) on campus at the AL Election 2013, in contrary to relevant guidelines issued by the Commission on Electoral Affairs.

In the second round of interviews with students, the University tried to establish the linkage between the participation in off-campus activities and students’ grades. Although a couple of students believed their failing grades were associated with their lack of participation in those activities, others conceded insufficient attention being paid to their course work. One student testified that Dr CHOU had rewarded him / her extra credits despite his / her expression of a view opposite to that of Dr CHOU. We would challenge the methodology of investigation: 1.) Students who obtained higher grades were underrepresented; 2.) The University fails to establish the causal relationship between higher grade and participation in / observation of off-campus activities recommended by Dr CHOU.

Furthermore, the position adopted by the University that academics are “mere passive observers” and are distinct from the role of activists is obviously wrong. There is just an overwhelming number of notable scholars who are also very activists in the West. The argument is no more than an excuse to justify the oppression of the scholars’ academic freedom and freedom of speech. Following the release of documents, we were shocked by the response of the Chairs of the University Senate that Dr CHOU had been denied to the right to an appeal.

To conclude, we see the disciplinary procedure against Dr Bill CHOU has been unjust and has been conducted without regard to the due process. A so-called “World-class University” might exist in fantasy of the administration of the University and nowhere else.

Assembly – Topic: For Academic Freedom & a Sexual Harassment-free Campus
Venue: Central Library Square, Ilha da Montanha
Time: 18:30 – 21:00, 31 October 2014

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