By Ying Chan
26 October 2020
See follow-up story on latest developments at “It was an oversight by the webmaster”
1/. Professor Zuo-jun Max Shen of UC Berkeley has been nominated as the only candidate to the position of Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Vice-president (research), at The University of Hong Kong. The University Council will vote on the nomination on 27 Oct, 2020. The HKU community only learned of Shen’s candidacy at about 1 pm on 23 Oct, 2020 when local media broke the story.
2/ Web forensics shows that Prof Shen has been listed as a member of the party committee of the Department of Industrial Engineering at Tsinghua University, where he serves as chair of the department, in addition to his duties at UC Berkeley. Alterations have been made to remove his name and party committee membership from at least three official Tsinghua sites and announcements
3/. I call on Council members to endorse the request from Nathaniel Lei, undergraduate member on the Council, to postpone voting on the candidate
to allow time for further due diligence and deliberation. A delay in the vote will also afford Professor Shen an opportunity to properly present himself to the university community and gain legitimacy. Professor Shen deserves a fair hearing.
4/. HKU must dissociate itself from apparent efforts on the part of some parties to misinform the news media and the public, and to alter Professor Shen’s records on the Internet. The proposed appointment has raised broader and important issues concerning the governance of the university and beyond. HKU’s leadership under Vice-Chancellor and President Xiang Zhang is duty bound to provide credible information to facilitate an informed and robust public discussion.
Let the debate begin
1/ Appointment of a member of the Chinese Communist Party to a PVC-VP position at HKU will constitute the first case of an open CCP member taking up senior management positions at any public or private institution in Hong Kong. The HKU appointment will create a precedent for such appointments, with far reaching implications for the SAR’s “one country, two systems” set-up.
2/ Shen has denied his party membership via UC Berkeley in response to queries from HKCnews, (“statements saying he is a member of the Communist Party are incorrect.”). Will he and Tsinghua University help solve the mystery of the doctored official records? Is there a cover-up going on?
3/ HKU and Hong Kong would benefit from a robust discussion of the implications of the appointment before creating a precedent. Some of the arguments I’ve heard dismissing concerns over the appointment of a CCP member include:
— — “To exclude CCP members amounts to discrimination, like age, sex, LGBT , ethnic origin discrimination.” (Rebuttal: the latter are disadvantaged in society, while the CCP is an all powerful ruling party of China! How does discrimination against the CCP work?)
— — “We don’t care if the candidate is a CCP member. To do that would amount to political screening. HKU does not practice political censorship “ (Rebuttal: we don’t screen political beliefs and views, but CCP membership at the university’s top management level is an entirely different matter which will have far-reaching implications.
As Professor John Burns, a public administration expert told me, “The CCP is an alternative authority system stretching directly to Beijing. It controls, monitors and supervises those institutions in which it is embedded.”)
This morning, CNews.Com reported that in response to its query, an engineering faculty spokesperson at UC Berkeley said that Berkeley is not concerned with the “political connections of faculty and students. (不會過問任何教職員或學生的政治聯繫)” But hey, in spite of all the problems plaguing American democracy, Berkeley folks enjoy First Amendment rights. We the people of Hong Kong have the National Security Law.
But it’s a good sign that the proposed appointment has generated all kinds of heated debates in Hong Kong. We may have no choice but to examine the new reality. Let the debate begin!
Media reports on doctoring of records
1/ Reports have emerged in the news media that Prof. Shen is a member of the party committee of the Department of Industrial Engineering at Tsinghua University, according to official Tsinghua websites.
3/. Media reports also stated that after the news broke on his candidacy, official Tsinghua websites dating back to 2013 have been altered to remove his name from the membership list of the departmental communist party committee.
4/. HKU has declined to respond to media allegations, telling reporters that “the University will only announce personnel appointments after all the procedures are completed.” However, unnamed HKU sources have been quoted in various news media, disseminating the following messages:
● “Professor Shen has stated that he is not a member of the Chinese Communist Party. “ ● “That party committee membership is a position in name only. He himself does not know that he is a member of the party committee.” ● “He is a full-time professor at UC Berkeley, and only spends a few weeks each year at Tsinghua University as a honorary professor.” ● “Traditionally, department heads at Chinese universities also serve as members of the departmental party committee, but this does not represent that he is a party member. “ (various Chinese media reports, see note at the end of article)
Verification of media reports and findings
Using basic Internet research tools, I have found that on least three occasions , official websites at Tsinghua University were altered to remove Prof Shen’s reported membership in the party committee of the Department of Industrial Engineering.
First incident of web doctoring
Prof Shen is listed as the head of the department only under “The party and governance institutions” section of the official website of Tsinghua’s Department of Industrial Engineering .
However, a search of the Internet Archive shows that Prof Shen was posted as a member of the departmental party committee as of 13 October, 2020. See https://web.archive.org/web/20201013133808/http://www.ie.tsinghua.edu.cn/List/index/cid/4.html
However, on 25 October, 2020, changes were made and saved at the site to remove Prof Shen from the list of committee members. See https://web.archive.org/web/20201025054614/http://www.ie.tsinghua.edu.cn/List/index/cid/4.html
The Archive recorded that changes were saved at GMT 05:46:14, i.e. 1:46 pm HK time on Friday, less than an hour after CNews.com, a local media, broke the news on the proposed appointment.
Second incidence of web doctoring
Google cache of Tsinghua official websites show that Tsinghua University had posted announcements in 2014 and 2017 on Prof Shen’s election to a departmental party committee position. His name was recently removed from the official websites.
Google cache shows that the 2014 announcement recorded on the Internet as of 14 August, 2020 included Prof Shen as one of the elected members of the departmental party committee.
Prof Shen’s name has been removed from the announcement at the current site.
Similar deletion from the original announcement was found on an announcement in 2017
Third incident of website doctoring
On 17 September, 2020 Google cache captured an image of Tsinghua’s official announcement that Prof Shen had been elected to be a member the departmental party committee .
However, Prof Shen’s name has been removed from the announcement posted on Tsinghua’s current official site. Below is an image of the doctored announcement.
HKU authorities have declined to comment of the announcement, but “HKU sources” have been quoted in various news media, Below is a sample:
- “不過消息透露，申作軍在清華權屬掛職，每年僅數周時間在清華，而他是出於校友之誼擔任系主任，傳統上內地大學系主任需兼任黨委委員，並非代表他本人有黨員身分，其本人亦已向港大否認外界傳聞。” ( 星島新聞網 https://bit.ly/37ESW6z ）
- “有港大消息人澄清，申作軍主要教席其實在美州柏克萊分校，在清華擔任系主任只是「榮譽性質，亦非黨委。” （明報 https://bit.ly/34taT5K ）
- “不願具名的港大消息人士稱，申作軍明確表明自己不是中共黨員，至於清華工業工程系網頁一度列出他是黨委委員，該消息人士解釋，申作軍主要教席其實在美國加州柏克萊分校，而在清華因為出任故被列為黨委，形容黨委一職「是虛銜」，「佢自己都唔知自己係黨委」。” (HKCnews.com https://bit.ly/2HDk76s )
- 昨日港大的消息人士指，申是因為接任系主任而同時出任黨委委員，而大部分時間在美國，並聲稱他自己都不知道做了黨委。(HKCnews.com https://bit.ly/37BWB4Y )
- “據了解，申作軍雖為清華大學工業工程系系主任，並非全職工作，需要不時中美兩邊走。 “ (消息：港大副校人選申作軍非中共黨員 HK Economic Times https://bit.ly/3dTpI4I
Declaration: research and writing for this essay is prepared entirely by myself. Views expressed in the memo are entirely my own, I am not currently an employee of HKU. I served as professor and head of HKU’s Journalism and Media Centre till my retirement from the centre in August 2016. I currently hold honorary positions at the university.