On December 27, 2017, Roger Wong Hoi-fung, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU), reported that university officials declined to renew his contract due to alleged “political interference.”
In a press conference, Professor Wong claimed that the university refused to extend his 3-year contract after he ran as a pan-democrat in China’s National People’s Congress election in December 2017 (he reportedly lost the seat to pro-Beijing candidates). According to Professor Wong, the extension was denied despite his department head Xia Yiji’s comments before the election that his contract would be renewed; an audio recording played during the press conference revealed Mr. Xia purportedly saying “we will support and recommend your extension.” Professor Wong also claimed that HKBU’s University Grants Committee had approved HK $1.26 million in funding for a research project he proposed prior to the non-renewal decision. According to reports, this would mark the first time the university refused to renew a professor’s contract after research funding had already been approved.
According to one media source, an HKBU spokesperson denied allegations of political considerations in their decision, stating that the university “does not consider any political factors, nor does it meet with any external intervention” in these decisions. HKBU has not publicly disclosed the basis of their decision to deny Professor Wong’s contract renewal. Some sources suggest that controversial ethics questions raised by Professor Wong in the past, including allegations dating back to 2014 that the university ignored concerns over false data used in research, were a factor in the university’s decision.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about apparent retaliation against a scholar for the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. University officials have a responsibility to respect such rights and to refrain from retaliating against such conduct. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such actions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.