Lingnan University president Leonard Cheng Kwok-hon will lead the Hong Kong institution for another five years despite student opposition, the Post has learned.
The university’s governing council on Friday approved Cheng’s reappointment for a second consecutive five-year term, according to a source close to the body.
Cheng, a chair professor of economics, became the university’s president in 2013. His current term is due to expire in August.
But news of his reappointment generated disapproval among some students, including those who have been at odds with him since his tenure started. Cheng was a campaign adviser to former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying, who was elected in 2012.
Students threaten to escalate action after pro-Beijing professor set to be reappointed at Hong Kong university
The president drew flak last September for his participation in a joint statement issued by heads of local universities that condemned freedom of speech “abuses”. The statement came after signs advocating Hong Kong independence surfaced at several university campuses. Before the statement, Cheng had said it was acceptable to discuss the matter of independence at university.
While he received unanimous support from the council to continue leading Lingnan, the decision on the length of his new term elicited support by only a simple majority.
The council felt it was in the university’s best interest to offer Cheng a five-year contract
It is understood concerns arose because Cheng is now 65 years old. He would be 70 years old if he were to complete the new five-year term.
“According to the university’s guidelines, generally staff can only be awarded a three-year contract after turning 65,” the source said. “But after seeking legal advice, the council felt it was in the university’s best interest to offer Cheng a five-year contract.”
The source said the council had discussed various options, including a three-year contract with a possibility of extending it two years.
A university spokesman did not confirm the details, saying: “Matters relating to the reappointment of President Leonard Cheng are now being handled by the Council of Lingnan University, and there is no information to announce for the time being.”
Ryan Lee, president of the university’s student union, said it strongly opposed Cheng’s reappointment in part because of what he described as a pro-government stance.
“We feel Cheng has served not the students but the authorities only,” he said.
Lee questioned whether the council was trying to stymie students who oppose Cheng, noting two recent meetings on the president’s reappointment were held off campus. One meeting was held during students’ exam period and the other during semester break.
Lee added that students might stage a protest when the council meets next month.