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Tuesday, August 04, 2020, 01:50
Expulsion of Benny Tai is well-founded and safeguards academic freedom
By Yang Sheng
Tuesday, August 04, 2020, 01:50 By Yang Sheng

On hearing of the removal from his post as an associate professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Hong Kong, Benny Tai Yiu-ting decried his dismissal as a decision made by “an authority beyond the university through its agents”, and that it “marks the end of academic freedom in Hong Kong”. His remarks, however, once again show his lack of remorse.

His expulsion was passed with an overwhelming majority in the HKU Council, the highest authority of the university, after an in-depth investigation and deliberation on his misdeeds. It began as early as 2014, when Tai was launching the illegal “Occupy Central” movement, during which he failed to disclose the source and purpose of the funding he obtained via third parties.

His (Tai’s) 16-month prison sentence has evidently tarnished HKU’s academic reputation. How then can academic freedom be manifested in his conviction? As his crimes are fully exposed in front of members of the council, it for sure has taken a justified step to fire him for good

That already constituted a breach of the university regulations on donations. Besides, the use of the funding, such as for the purchase of hundreds of mobile phones, was found to be inconsistent with HKU’s academic purpose. In view of these suspicious non-compliance activities, the council hired an independent accountant to audit Tai’s handling of funds. In the end, the findings matched with the university’s own justifiable conclusion. Even so, the council was lenient and only gave him a demerit for his misbehavior. 

Despite the first warning of the governing council, Tai’s misconduct took a turn for the worse. As if “Occupy Central” did not bestow sufficient “honor” on him, he continued to involve himself in a series of political events, such as strategizing for the oppositions in both the District Council and Legislative Council elections; worse still, those candidates include pro-independence radicals who impose a grave threat to national security by engaging in street violence that has wreaked havoc in Hong Kong for more than a year.

His most recent mischief was organizing the “primary election” and devising the so-called “35-plus” scheme to take control of LegCo and thereafter paralyze the governance of the HKSAR. Seeing his increasing political engagement, the council gave him the chance to reflect on his track record during the second round of investigation.

Tai may assume that his political activities constitute “exercising the right of academic freedom” to encourage “independent thinking” among his students. But in the eye of the governing council, his 16-month prison sentence has evidently tarnished HKU’s academic reputation. How then can academic freedom be manifested in his conviction? As his crimes are fully exposed in front of members of the council, it for sure has taken a justified step to fire him for good. Not only is it not undermining academic freedom, but it is in fact safeguarding the reputation of academic freedom at HKU.

When the council began investigating Tai’s untoward behavior in early 2014, he tried to justify his misrepresentation of “Occupy Central” as civil disobedience, but to no avail. By turning hundreds of otherwise promising youngsters into outlaws who pushed our society to the brink of anarchy, Tai managed to convince many people that civil disobedience is counterproductive. Civil disobedience refers to the active, professed refusal of a citizen to obey certain laws, demands, orders or commands of a government. The civil disobedience of teachers, for example, refers to temporarily suspending teaching activities at schools for a certain purpose. Inciting teachers and students to block public traffic at the cost of public interests should not be categorized as any form of civil disobedient activities. As such, disrupting the normal operation of the financial district with “Occupy Central” was a criminal act. He was sentenced to 16 months of imprisonment for initiating and organizing the illegal campaign, but many people believed he deserved more time behind bars for hoodwinking thousands of innocent young people into becoming mindless rioters.

Unfortunately, neither imprisonment nor the HKU governing council’s decision to fire him has stopped Tai from advancing this political agenda at all costs. He even brazenly described his criminal enterprise as exercising “academic freedom”, which is the freedom of speech in teaching, researching and publications. Tai’s unlawful behavior, however, had nothing to do with his profession as an associate professor of law or his job at HKU for that matter.

Tai and his ilk may be proud of their success in brainwashing so many students with such deceit as “achieving justice by breaking the law,” but the great majority of Hong Kong residents are not amused. According to Tai’s logic, the rule of law in our city is justified only if he says so and he can break any law he wants with “academic freedom” as an excuse. Consequently all he has been doing is meant to undermine the rule of law.

As for the improbable assertion that Tai alone symbolizes “academic freedom” in Hong Kong, no one should be bothered to take it seriously no matter who is behind it. Tai was undoubtedly a liability to HKU as well as to Hong Kong society as a whole and deserved to be fired, because he has devoted to an evil enterprise.

The author is a current affairs commentator. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

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