A conversation with HKUSU president Laurence Tang

A conversation with HKUSU president Laurence Tang

(Apple Daily, Hong Kong)


Editor’s note: China Current’s Chief Editor Alexander Ye talked with Hong Kong University Students’ Union’s (HKUSU) President Laurence Tang, who was a member of the HKU President Election Committee on October 18. The Hong Kong University Students’ Union was established in 1912 and to this day it still plays a vital role among the Hong Kong student community, and even in society as a whole.

China Current:

Compared to the other HKUers, you seem to have special rights. For example, the right to use the HKUSU building. As the president of the Student Union, what do you think of your ‘big shot’ status in HKU?

Laurence Tang:

Actually, I’m not a true ‘big shot’. This building, which can be used by all Hong Kong University students, was obtained thanks to the great efforts of previous students. They pressured the university in order to spare a place for thestudents, and at last won the campaign. This building belongs to all the HKU students, and all that the Student Union or I can do is to decide how to decorate it. If we let an unqualified shop which may not serve the students’ interests set up business in the building, we will be seriously criticised.

China Current:

But everyone makes mistakes sometimes, and students or society in general might feel inclined to criticise you at times. Moreover, they might think that you are not good enough for this position. How do you deal with opinions like these?

Laurence Tang:

Honestly, up to now, I haven’t made such a terrible mistake to attract the criticism of the students or the public. I would also say that it is important for me to be cautious if I want to continue running the Union in the future. However, if I were to make a mistake, the first thing I would do is to apologise, and then try my best to solve the crisis. If the students want me to leave, I’d obviously respect their decision and agree to do it, because I was elected by them, which means that they have the right to kick me out as well!

China Current:

It appears that, to some extent, you must always be ready to sacrifice yourself.

Laurence Tang:

Not really. In a situation like this, students will no doubt criticise you. However, if they know that you never intended to make that mistake and are willing to change and make amends, it is clear that they will give you another chance. On the other hand, I have learnt a lot since I became the president of the HKU Student Union. 

Members of the Union include students and alumni. We are called ‘Union’ because we have the support of all the members, so it’s our duty to work for them and try to represent them at the university level. The university policies may not satisfy the students’ expectations all the time, and they might even act against their fundamental interests. The Students’ Union, therefore, has to step up and represent the students to protect their interests. Also, it is very necessary for the Students’ Union to speak out and express the attitudes and opinions of Hong Kong University students regarding events taking place around us. 

China Current:

When you stepped into the HKU main building with the president of the university during the welcoming ceremony at orientation day in order to welcome nearly 1,000 new students from all over the world, did you feel special in some way you had not felt before?

Laurence Tang:

This is a very interesting question. I guess it was the first time I had to speak in front of so many people. At that time, while I was looking at those freshmen, I couldn’t help but thinking back to the time three years ago when I was sitting among the audience. Three years ago, I dreamt of being the guy standing on the stage with the president of HKU.

China Current:

In the president’s welcome page on the website of the Students’ Union, you have criticized the previous executive committee, particularly with regards to two specific issues, one is an expense of 380,000 HK$ in publishing advertisements, the other is a General Polling related to a Dr Albert Chau and a Prof Ronald T. Chin. Could you please briefly explain these two affairs and tell us why you oppose the decisions made by the former Student Union? 

Laurence Tang:

The background is that at that time Hong Kong was undergoing the Chief Executive Election. The (former) Students’ Union used its own funds to publish advertisements on the front pages of eight newspapers in order to attract the attention of the government in Beijing. This cost about 380,000 HK$ in total. Apart from the expense itself, the content of the advertisement was also problematic. The Students’ Union, however, avoided explaining their actions, sparking negative reactions among the public. Moreover, the former committee tried to avoid this General Polling using a series of administrative measures; for example, they decided to put off the polling until the summer vacation. 

The other issue is that the opening time of three residential buildings was postponed because of the awful weather, as typhoons made it impossible for the workers to finish the buildings in time. The Students’ Union organized a General Polling at the beginning of the semester demanding the resignation of the senior members of the university who were deemed to be responsible for this affair – Dr Chau and Prof Chin. But the problem was that the students only heard the one-sided and tendentious comments of the Students’ Union, rather than the whole story.

China Current:

When Professor Mathieson was appointed as the next president of HKU, Professor Chan, who is now serving as Director and Professor at the HKU Journalism and Media Studies Centre, published a very critical comment on the election and the new HKU president. This had a huge impact, not only within the university, but also in society, what do you think of her commentary? Does anyone think that President Lap-Chee Tsui’s resignation is mainly due to the HKU 8.18 incident and the civil rights violations during Li Keqiang’s visit?

Laurence Tang:

I’m a member of the HKU President Election Committee, so I can state that all the procedures are fair enough. All HKU staff and students wish to choose the best person to lead the university, but to be honest, we must face the fact that there is no way for us to find that person at this moment. 

In 2010, the Vice-Chancellor Lap-Chee Tsui, who was considered to be the best choice for next president of HKU, stepped down because of his performance in dealing with certain political issues: when the premier of the People’s Republic of China Li Keqiang came to HKU for a visit in the year 2008, numerous alumni and students wanted to demonstrate in campus but encountered quite a few obstacles. This led these people to believe that the Vice-Chancellor Lap-Chee Tsui didn’t have the abilities to protect freedom of speech at HKU. Finally, the Vice-Chancellor said ‘no’ when we asked him if he wanted to be the president or not.

As for famous Chinese academics from overseas, they feel a bit nervous about the complicated environment at HKU, and they regard the position of president as a potential risk to their future career. When Mathieson was nominated as Vice-Chancellor of HKU in early October, many people questioned his abilities – citing his lack of familiarity with the current situation in Hong Kong and the intricate relations with Beijing, and his lack of experience. It’s unfair to say that his academic achievements are not OK, but they are certainly not top-level. 

China Current:

The students of HKU, as well as other universities in Hong Kong, all appear to be taking part in many social movements, including Occupy Central. What do you think are the similarities and differences between universities and the changing society?

Laurence Tang:

At first, before getting involved with the movement, we do some promotion, like organising forums or debates, in order to let as many students as possible know about the social issues we are focusing on. For instance, for Occupy Central, the Students’ Union organised a forum with the initiators of the movement in order to discuss the topic of whether Occupy Central was a good or ideal way to fight for the general suffrage in Hong Kong. 

As university students, we should of course focus on our studies. However, we are part of cheap viagra society, too. In fact, college students do not have to deal with much pressure, since we seldom have to worry about making a living. Therefore, there is no need for us to do or agree with something we don’t like in order to satisfy the bosses or any other interest groups, and we are capable of conveying our true views to society. Society definitely has high expectations for us. Yet, we should spare no effort in pushing these movements and activities to be more rational and comprehensive; being part of a research university, we need to promote well-reasoned and effective activities.

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