Universities responsible for stopping violence|Comment HK|chinadaily.com.cn

Universities responsible for stopping violence

Updated: 2019-11-12 07:48

(HK Edition)

Many people are now aware of the old English common law offense of “misconduct in public office”, largely due to the fact that a number of senior public officials, including former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, were charged with this offense. But not too many people are aware of the landmark case R vs Dytham, which triggered prosecutions under this common law offense. That case involved a British police constable, Dytham, who was on patrol duty outside a nightclub and saw a fight with loud screams and a man being beaten and kicked. But he made no move to intervene and just drove away, claiming he was off work. The man later died and Dytham was convicted of this offense. The court held that as a police officer, he has a duty of care to everyone in society, and failing to do so is an offense.

It seems to me that the scene at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology on Wednesday at an open forum hosted by university President Wei Shyy with the students is similar in principle to this case. On this occasion, a 23-year-old mainland PhD student was beaten up by a group of radical students right in the middle of the forum – which should have been witnessed by the president who was on the stage. But he did not appear to have taken any appropriate action to stop the beating. According to video footage, the victim was harassed for about an hour before he was eventually rescued and taken to the school’s security center. His Hong Kong identity card, student card, and travel permit between the SAR and the mainland were robbed by radical students, who subsequently leaked his personal information on the internet.

What is worse is police had already arrived outside the campus, but the president refused to allow them to enter. As in the case of R vs Dytham, the university president is a public officer within the definition of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance. Unquestionably, he owes a duty of care to his students and he appeared to have failed in that regard by not taking any action to protect the mainland student. Such misfeasance seems to deserve public condemnation and punishment.

Evidently, serious crimes have been committed on the campus, namely “assault occasioning bodily harm” and robbery. It is therefore the duty of the police to enforce the law to investigate the crime and arrest the culprits. By denying the police access to the campus, the president could be guilty of “obstructing the course of justice”.

This is not an isolated incident. Two days later, on Friday, after the announcement of the death of HKUST student Alex Chow Tsz-lok, radical students took the opportunity to launch a violent protest on the campus, and a few pro-government shops and banks inside the campus were vandalized. The protesters even smashed up the president’s residence as well as the office of a mainland professor. Again, police were not allowed to enter the campus to stop the violence.

We have seen pro-mainland shops and banks vandalized regularly recently, but let’s give the benefit of the doubt that they might be caused by some radical rioters, and not our well-educated university students. But such violence on the HKUST campus is now solid proof of the lawlessness of our university students who are heavily subsidized by taxpayers!

This is particularly sad because the HKUST has been receiving international kudos for its impressive academic achievements in such a short period. At one time, its world ranking surpassed even the University of Hong Kong, generally regarded as Hong Kong’s Ivy League. It also enjoyed an excellent partnership with the mainland. The founder of the famous DJI, the world’s largest drone manufacturer, was a graduate of the HKUST.

Sadly, the university’s hard-earned impressive reputation just might suffer under the current management, thanks to its persistent bending over backward to accommodate its unruly, ever more aggressive and self-righteous students. If the president thinks he is taking the easy way out, his mindless conflict-avoidance attitude will one day come back to haunt him. The violent students have let their “victories” go to their heads. They will almost certainly escalate their violence when the next opportunity arises. This will inevitably lead to some of them committing criminal offenses in pursuance of the “ideals” for which they are likely to end up serving prison sentences, and ruining their careers before they even got started. The president should reflect on such an eventual tragic outcome for his students, and have the decency to resign with an apology over his gross negligence of duty.

More immediately, the president must find ways to guarantee the safety of his mainland teaching staff and students, and ensure the university can provide a completely safe environment for all students to pursue their studies. There are at least three things he should do immediately. Firstly, he should issue a strongly worded condemnation of the recent violence on the campus, stressing that, from now on, the management will adopt a zero-tolerance stance toward any breach of law and school regulations, and warn students that they could be expelled. He should learn from the school management of St Paul’s Co-educational College who had recently openly published such a strong warning and received great support from the parents. Secondly, he should announce the setting up of an investigation team to work closely with police to investigate the recent assault and criminal damage of the shops and offices on the campus, with a clear message that all radical students, once identified, will be suspended, pending disciplinary action to expel them. Thirdly, he should set up a campus police team consisting of people with security or military training to patrol the campus. Such campus police teams are quite common in the United States. Given how much personal violence and property damage have been caused by some radical students, and who clearly would be getting away scot-free, he really must not allow himself to be intimidated by his own students. On the contrary, he must take advantage of the university’s expertise in technology and install a lot more concealed CCTV cameras to cover the entire campus to assist campus police in better performing their duties.

It is sad to note that many university students are active participants in the current indiscriminate violence and wanton vandalism. So far, 702 university students have been arrested and 120 have been charged. If there is indeed an independent commission of enquiry set up after the current insanity on our streets and public places, these university presidents who shirked their responsibility to discipline wayward students and allowed their campuses to become breeding grounds for violent radicals instead could be singled out for public censure, or more.

(HK Edition 11/12/2019 page8)

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